‘I’m not a criminal’ | Owner questions opposition to his plans to open tattoo shop in North Jackson

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 6:02 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The owner of a proposed tattoo studio planned for the Junction shopping center in North Jackson is questioning why residents who live miles away are opposed to his business.

On Wednesday, the Jackson Planning Board approved John Craig and Lynn Nguyen’s request for a use permit to open the studio at the shopping center located in the 6000 block of I-55 North.

The measure now must go before the Jackson City Council for approval.

The request was tabled at the planning board’s March meeting after some residents raised concerns that the project is not in harmony with other businesses in the area.

Craig, though, argues that claims are based on “perception, bigotry, and bias,” and that opponents to his shop have no “commercial, residential or community interest in the area.”

As for the bigotry, he pointed to a meeting he had with several neighborhood residents following the March planning meeting.

“They asked me if I was approved would I... have a boombox blaring to attract customers,” Craig said. “I assured (them) that I did not own a boombox and would not need to attract customers in this manner, (because) I already have a deep clientele base.”

A letter obtained by WLBT claims that the project is opposed by residents in about 23 North Jackson neighborhoods, including Heatherwood and the Sheffield Area.

Lawrence Mixon, a Heatherwood resident, spoke in opposition to Craig’s request at Wednesday’s meeting.

“It’s just about the character of the store. That’s the opposition (I) and a lot of other people in the area have,” he said. “It’s just that the unseemliness of a tattoo shop is just not really something that we want in our area.”

Mixon expressed some of the same concerns that were spelled out in the February 17 letter sent to City Zoning Administrator Ester Ainsworth and planning board members.

The letter, which was penned by Sheffield Area Homeowners Association President Ashley Ogden, argues the studio was not compatible with other projects in the area, would be detrimental to property values, would potentially increase crime, and drive customers out of Jackson.

“Families will not shop at Target with a tattoo parlor next to it,” he wrote. “They will drive out to Rankin County and go to the Target in Flowood. This will decrease the business to Target and its surrounding stores.”

Ogden, who also is on the board of the JXN United, said in the letter he was speaking for thousands of residents in numerous North Jackson neighborhood associations, the majority of which are on the east side of I-55.

The Junction, meanwhile, is on the west side of the interstate near County Line Road. It is home to Target, Home Depot, and other shops.

Whether all those neighborhoods Ogden says he was speaking for was unclear. Officials with the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, for instance, were unaware they had been mentioned in the correspondence.

“Why would we be weighing in on something not in Fondren?” Executive Director Rebecca Garrison said.

Ogden said FRF likely shouldn’t have been included, saying it might have been edited from another letter.

He also said that the opposition to the tattoo parlor is not personal, saying that if one use permit for a tattoo studio is allowed, others will come.

“We’re trying to re-establish Northeast Jackson as family-friendly, so people don’t move out, they move back in,” he said.

Craig said the negative perception of tattoo shops has prevented him from setting up shop at other sites elsewhere in the city.

“In my pursuit of a physical location, I ran across multiple shopping centers that restricted the leasing space to anyone providing a tattoo service,” he told the planning board. “Most of these leasing agencies would not even speak to me after mentioning what service I would be providing.”

The Jackson State University biology graduate said his experience eventually led him to the Junction. Since signing a lease there, he’s paid $20,000 in rent and security deposits, all without opening his doors.

“I tell you this because I want you to understand how much I’m invested (in) making sure this business does not fail or represent any of the negative perceptions and stereotypes placed on this industry,” he said. “I’m not a thug. I’m not a criminal. I’m a taxpaying citizen with a family whose profession happens to be (a tattoo artist).”

He also points to the fact that several of the neighborhoods in opposition are located on the east side of the interstate, miles away from the Junction.

Bertha Thames, a member of the Tougaloo Civic League, the homeowners’ association representing the Tougaloo community, said her neighborhood has no problem with the store and said similar businesses are already located there.

The Tougaloo community is adjacent to the shopping center in question.

“Along with other retailers, we know there is a liquor store, nail shop, hair shop, and CBD dispensary located in the shopping center,” she said. “These I mentioned because they are in the category with a tattoo shop.”

The shopping center is located in an area zoned for C-3, for general commercial development. Tattoo shops and liquor stores must obtain a use permit before operating in those zoned areas, according to city code.

Mixon agreed that a liquor store and nail shop were already located there. However, he said that “there’s something just, even about the advertising with the tattoos, they’re more of a lure to children than, you know, a liquor store is.”

Mississippi Code Section says it’s a misdemeanor for anyone to tattoo a person 18 years or younger and that being convicted of doing so could cause an artist to be fined up to $500 and have his or her registration suspended or revoked

Ward 2 Councilwoman Angelique Lee said she also has no problem with Craig opening up a shop in her ward.

“I have no problem with a young, Black entrepreneur moving into a vacant property in my ward, generating revenue for the city,” she said in a statement following the vote. “Mr. Craig is a Jacksonian, is a businessman with a love for art and his fiance is a dentist... We are thankful they have decided to open in Ward 2.”

Both sides were given 15 minutes to speak, with one person speaking in opposition and one person speaking in favor along with Craig.

The planning board approved the use permit on an 8-2 vote, with the conditions that the use permit be granted on an annual basis, be granted to Craig and Nguyen, and that any future owners of a tattoo parlor at the location must apply for and receive a new use permit.

“I was impressed with the kinds of tattoos Mr. Craig does, with removing scars from people who have had surgery. He’s just not doing tattoos, he’s taking care of making a person more presentable in the area where they’ve had operations,” said Planning Board Member Joyce Jackson, who made the motion to approve. “And I just think that’s great.”

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