We talked to: Stone's

Hi, there! Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and your business? What made you choose Northampton as a location for your studio?

Alex: I’ve essentially been an artist my entire life, and I am now 39. It’s always come naturally to me since I was a kid, both in school and on my own. I went to school for illustration and have a BFA from the U of Hartford. I first began tattooing in 2003, during an apprenticeship in Connecticut. I began tattooing skin in 2006, then opened up a shop with my mentor in 2008. In 2010, I opened a studio of my own and have been working for myself ever since.

In 2014, I moved my studio to Hartford, and ended up having several studio locations there. In 2020, when the pandemic hit and we were in lockdown, I was unable to tattoo for several months. That’s when Nico decided he was interested in apprenticing, and we also came to the realization that Hartford was no longer the place for us, either personally or business-wise.  We decided to take a roadtrip in 2021 to have an adventure and also give ourselves some time to think about next steps and get clear on what we wanted. That’s when it really became apparent that  we wanted to open a studio together when we returned to the East Coast. I’ve always preferred smaller shops, and we felt like opening one together would be the best way to manage the business and pursue our creative passions. Northampton has always been a great day trip destination.

Last year we started coming here/hanging out and started noticing open storefronts and potential options for us. When our current space in the Maplewood Shops became available, everything about it just felt right, from the proximity to downtown to the parking lot. Also, my Connecticut clients can easily travel to this location, which has been really important to me. On so many levels, we feel like Northampton is a great place to be—there is so much natural beauty all around us, there are fun cultural events happening, people are focused on healthy living, cannabis culture is normalized, and queer culture is both normalized and supported. We’re just coming up on a year here, and we’re just starting to settle in and stabilize. It's been a wild ride, but also a wonderful one. And Nico and I work great as a team both in our personal relationship and our working relationship. We truly complement each other, which just makes our dynamic so comfortable, simple, and honest.

Nico: I was born an artist and creative person, and also started drawing at an early age. I learned to crochet with a neighbor, and I eventually also took sewing classes. I was always involved in creative endeavors. In my 20s, I got more into crocheting on my own and I have been doing it ever since. I went to art school in the Dominican Republic before moving to the U.S. in 2003. In 2012, I learned to knit before getting a job at Lion Brand Studio yarn shop in NY, and really came to enjoy it.

When Alex and I met in 2018, we connected and started to get to know each other. I also started to get involved with Alex and the shop even before apprenticing. Even when I was working at jobs that were not related to art, I had a strong work ethic and commitment to whatever jobs I did. When we did the road trip in 2021, the longer I was away from my job in Hartford, the less connected I felt to it, and the less concerned I was about my responsibilities there. That’s when it really hit me that I needed to reconnect with and have a job that would focus on my passion, which is art. That’s when Alex and I started discussing doing this together and we solidified my apprenticeship. After almost three weeks on the road, I gave my resignation at work. It just felt right, and we knew it was time to proceed with this dream and our passions, and that’s when Northampton came into the picture.

I have to say, this business just feels like it was meant to be, and the location is ideal. Even family and friends say that I seem so much happier because I’m doing something I love in a place that I’m excited about. I’ve now officially been tattooing skin for over a year, and my style and interests are evolving. I am open to working with everyone’s ideas and feel like my personal style will continue to emerge in time. Even with all of the negativity and the challenges of the pandemic, I feel like Alex and I have grown as a couple and really solidified what we want to do, both now and in the future. We have our own space and time for our individual interests, but also know that we can spend a lot of time together and get along well, both personally and professionally.

What are some challenges you endured, and what are some positive things that you’ve learned/that have come out of the past two years?

Alex: So the biggest challenge for me has been the move itself. I have a really extensive collection of art and mementos, as well as many poignant gifts from clients and a large saltwater aquarium that is a focal point in the shop, and one of my main hobbies. So moving everything here from Connecticut was pretty tough, along with the physical remodeling of the space itself.  Getting out of my comfort zone initially felt difficult, but we quickly realized how warm, welcoming, and supportive everyone is in this area. People are genuinely curious about what we are doing, and we love the good vibes and energy that we are feeling. We have learned that pursuing a happy life in a place we love is what’s most important to us—it’s our purpose, and it’s achievable. And we sense that others in the Valley feel the same way and are committed to living a happy, healthy life.

Nico: For me, I feel as though the positives have outweighed the negatives throughout the past couple of years. Yes, there have been some challenging times and situations, but overall, we have learned and experienced so much. And I honestly cannot wait to learn and grow more as we continue to create art, hone our craft, and connect with our community.

As business owners, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?

We both love creative projects and being outside. We enjoy going for bike rides, roller skating, and being near water—the natural world is our thing. We also love going on roadtrips and exploring. And when we’re home having a simple, quiet homelife is important to us. We are just loving living and working in this area. It’s amazing being close to downtown for work, but also having the opportunity to explore hiking trails and other spots in nature—there’s such a unique balance of city and country.

What are some exciting things that you have coming up, both at the studio and in general? Any events or new projects you'd like to share?

Alex: We are excited to meet new people, make new friends, and get our artwork out into this area. We especially want to connect with the queer community here, as we can already tell how welcoming, supportive, and authentic it feels. When a client comes in to be tattooed, we often have deep and meaningful conversations throughout the process, and it’s important to us that people regard our studio as a safe space where they can be themselves and feel at ease. We are not here for volume—this isn’t just a money-making situation. We want to provide a comfortable, nice experience during which people can express themselves in their own unique ways.

Nico: We are excited to start promoting walk-ins on Fridays and Saturdays, mainly so that I can build up my client base, but also just generate clientele in general. We’ve talked about possibly having an artistic evening at some point, but nothing is solidified just yet. We also have our artwork available for purchase at the shop, so if you come in for an appointment and want to browse and buy, we encourage it! We love the queer artistic vibe of the community, and it’s important to us to start creating those connections and cultivating friendships. We just love what we’re doing, and we want to keep doing it for our own life experience. Making a living is important, but doing what we’re passionate about is even more important.

Fun little new Q: what’s your favorite summer food?

The one food that came to mind is poke bowls, which are our all-time favorite!

Alex: We also both love ice cream. If we see an ice cream shop, we cannot resist checking it out. I like getting a chocolate milkshake or something containing caramel or nuts. A recent favorite is the Dole Pineapple soft-serve–Dole Whip–which is even dairy-free.

Nico: Blackberry and black cherry are my go-to choices. I might add a scoop of a house special to that as well, as I love trying new and unique flavors!

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