Owner Mikey Vigilante tattoos a customer at Paper Crane Studio in the East Village Arts District of Long Beach, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Los Angeles County tattoo shops, including at least four in Long Beach, have reopened for business in the wake of an ongoing lawsuit against the state. The lawyer representing tattoo shop owners, however, said the state will make an official announcement regarding tattoo businesses Tuesday.

The state attorney general’s office deferred questions to the governor’s office, which did not respond to requests for comment about the announcement.

Attorney Robert Moest, who is representing the tattoo shops, said the attorney for the governor and the Department of Public Health said the state would revise its guidelines so that body art businesses could reopen along the same lines as nail and hair businesses.

Moest is representing three tattoo shop owners in a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and two state health officials, which was filed in late September.

In Long Beach, Port City Tattoo, whose owner Tom Moser is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Paper Crane Studio, Outer Limits Tattoo and The Raven & The Wolves have reopened for business by appointment only. Between Sunday and Tuesday, the businesses announced their reopenings on social media.

Owners of Black Raven Tattoo in Torrance and Palace Art Tattoo in Thousand Oaks, the other two plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state, have also publicly announced they are now open.

Moser said he opted to reopen ahead of any formal announcement once he was told the state was not going to fight the lawsuit.

“Even if it doesn’t go through, I’m not closing down,” Moser said. “They can send the police out here or do whatever because I know I have a lawsuit against the city and state for damages if I really wanted to pursue it.”

Jamie Cheshire, 44, winces during her session with Paper Crane Studio Owner Mikey Vigilante, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

A 2010 decision in the case Anderson v. City of Hermosa Beach by Judge Jay Bybee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit states tattoos, the process of tattooing and the business of tattooing are fully protected under the First Amendment. Moest also represented the plaintiff in that case and used this precedent in his current lawsuit against the state.

Based on legal precedent and the anticipated announcement, Moser said he is confident that being open now will not result in any citations or fines.

“I would hope that health inspectors can find more flagrant violations of the safety protocols than the safe reopening of a tattoo shop, but you never know,” Moest said. “I think if a shop were cited, they would have a good defense to the citation. Copies of my lawsuit are public record, but their lawyers would still presumably charge a hefty fee.”

Mikey Vigilante, owner of Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach’s East Village Arts District, said that he took out around $100,000 in loans to keep his shop afloat during the forced closure of the last seven months. He said the timing couldn’t be better, as his unemployment benefits recently ran out.

Tattooing is one of the oldest forms of human expression, Vigilante said, adding that if people took the time to educate themselves they would accept that tattoos have a role to play in society beyond the stigma often attributed to them.

“Tattoos aren’t a mark of vanity. It’s not a luxury item. It’s not cosmetic,” Vigilante said. “It’s deeply, deeply expressive and personal and part of the human experience. For myself, as an artist, … it’s an exercise in meditation for me. To have somebody wear it and show it off with pride … connects us on a physical and spiritual level. It’s my life’s purpose.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.