We talked to: Cheap Thrills Tattoo
Hi, Joe! Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your business, and why you chose Northampton as a location?
Hi! So my background is in art—I attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for painting. I had planned to go on to get my masters, but realized it was very expensive and I just decided it wasn’t worth it, as having a degree in art does not automatically ensure you will find employment. At this point in time, I found my way to tattooing and did my first tattoo in 1991.
I went on to get licensed in 1997, while living in Providence, RI, and worked at Artfreek on Steeple Street with Don Lussier. I also worked with Stephen Lanphear, who won a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts that found its 40-year ban on tattoo parlors to be unconstitutional. In 2000, tattooing finally became legal in the state due to his efforts and determination. I worked with him in Oaks Bluff for a couple of summers—before he relocated to Pittsfield—at his shop named Compass Rose. There, I also worked for a time with an artist named Little John from NC.
It was a different era in the tattoo industry, when people were making their own needles and there was a lot of gatekeeping. It was pretty much run by older men, and there was not as much diversity in the clientele or the actual business. You had to kind of steal information or learn by trial and error back then, at least for me. All of those guys wanted you to make money for them, but they didn’t want to tell you how to “make the soup”.
When I met my girlfriend, we ended up living in New Orleans from 2008 to 2012, and had our first kid. Ultimately, we felt like New Orleans was not the place we wanted our child to grow up, and decided it was time to return north. I opened my business in Hadley, but after we suffered a fire, I was just in a tough space. At that point, my father and I ended up buying a building in Holyoke, where I ran my business for seven years. We figured it made more sense to pay a mortgage than throw away money on rent. Unfortunately, with the way things have been for years in Holyoke, it’s really tough to grow a business and the taxes are astronomical.
My girlfriend happened to spot this location on Easthampton Rd. in Northampton, which has great visibility and is close to nature. We were able to buy it before it was rezoned and got the zoning changed so we could run our business.
I really love this location, and my clients enjoy being able to look outside and see a wooded area with deer and other animals passing through. Parking is not as much of an issue as it would be in a downtown location, and I love being able to have a flower garden out front.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced as well as some positive things that have transpired in the past few years?
I honestly did not mind Covid, in terms of masking and getting paid by the state for two months. I tried to view it as an opportunity to spend time with my family. When we opened back up, I was ready to go. People at that time were eager to spend their stimulus money, and it was great being able to tattoo again. That said, the economy is definitely struggling right now, and you can see signs of it everywhere.
I feel pretty fortunate I’m able to do this work. The location is great, and it gives me a lot of freedom to garden and control my environment. I try not to worry about things I can’t control, as it just brings anxiety and is ultimately futile. I do believe that good things can come from challenges and I try to approach my life and work with a positive mindset.
What are some exciting things/events coming up for the business?
I am hoping to be able to turn the barn into a bit of a venue. It has three bays, so it could fit up to 50 people for a small cafe with some live music events from time to time. I’m excited to be able to expand into that ultimately. I feel like there are lots of opportunities with this property, and it keeps me interested and motivated. And if it’s a bit slow, I can just step outside and garden.
As a business owner, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?
I rebuild cars—I’m currently working on a Studebaker—on Sunday mornings for several hours, and try to paint nightly. It’s definitely great to have that artistic outlet, even if I’m not making money. And working on cars is just a passion for me that I inherited from my dad. And of course, tending to the flower garden at the shop is a great way to unwind.
And finally... What’s your favorite fall food and/or beverage?
BBQ ribs and coffee! We also love dining at Paul & Elizabeth’s—they are our friends, and their food is just always consistently great.