TATTOO TABOO: Neighborhood Objects Proposed Ink Shop
by Durrel Dawson
With a bald head and too many tattoos to count, Keith Underwood may not fit some people’s idea of what a businessman would normally look like.
Underwood and his wife, Nicole, bought a building at 1150 W. Taylor St. to open a tattoo studio. But before his proposed tattoo business is accepted, he will have to overcome a few roadblocks.
He will need to obtain a special use permit from Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals before he can officially set up shop.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will have a public hearing, where anyone within 250 feet of Underwood’s property will be able to make a case for or against a tattoo studio in their neighborhood.
Underwood said negative perceptions about tattooing are common, which could compromise his chances of obtaining a special use permit.
To ease the fears of residents, Underwood rented out Hawkeye’s Bar & Grill on Taylor Street, and held a discussion for anyone who wanted to attend on Aug. 26.
According to Underwood, most of the concerns brought up during the discussion where concerning fears that a tattoo shop would bring bikers and gang members into the neighborhood.
He said the idea of gang members and bikers being the only people that get tattoos is false.
Underwood estimated that most of his clientele would be college-aged students and middle to upper class young people.
An estimated 40 million Americans have tattoos, said Underwood.
“You don’t get those numbers from bikers and gang-bangers. You get those numbers from middle America. From suburban Americans spending their excess cash,” he said.
Underwood said some property owners were afraid a tattoo studio would encourage people to loiter, increasing crime rates. Because he and his wife live on the property, Underwood said he would not allow people to behave reckless
Underwood, who is certified in CPR, first aid, and prevention of disease transmission, said nobody brought up health concerns at the meeting.
“I have all these certifications but nobody seemed to care about that. All they cared about was what kind of clientele I was going to bring in,” he said.
Although some in the neighborhood do not want a tattoo studio to open, there are others who support Underwood.
Jim Spina, owner of Jamoch’s Cafe at 1066 W. Taylor St., said he was concerned about a tattoo shop at first, but changed his mind after meeting Underwood.
Spina said a tattoo studio is no worse than the neighborhood liquor store.
“He should be able to do what he wants. It’s a legitimate business. He’s not selling prostitution, but that’s the way people are acting,” Spina said. “If people don’t want him, why do they allow liquor stores?”
In June, Underwood held a meeting for the University Village Association’s Development Committee. The UVA is an advocate for the community surrounding the University of Illinois at Chicago and Little Italy with the goal of improving the quality of life.
At the meeting with the UVA, Underwood offered reasons why he should be allowed to open a tattoo studio on Taylor Street. Following the meeting, the development committee took an informal survey of neighborhood residents and businesses, said Christopher Provenzano, executive director of the UVA.
The survey said that a tattoo studio had been proposed for Taylor Street and asked if the residents would be in favor of or opposed to the tattoo studio. The UVA staff found that 15 people were in favor of the business, while 32 were against it. Seventeen were indifferent.
The development committee deliberated for five weeks before coming to a unanimous decision on July 8, and decided not to support a tattoo studio on Taylor Street.
“The results showed that there was no ground swell of overwhelming support for a tattoo studio. Rather, there was opposition to the idea of bringing a tattoo studio to Taylor Street,” said Provenzano.
“It also showed that a tattoo studio is a hot button issue for the community that evokes strong emotions and responses,” he said.
The UVA has not decided if it will make a case at Underwood’s public hearing for the Zoning Board of Appeals, but he has began to gather signatures and addresses of people in the area that support him.
“I believe that the University Village Association is going to act like the neighborhood representative and they are going to say that nobody wants this business. So the signatures are basically just to dispute that,” he said.
Last week, Underwood estimated he had gotten almost 200 signatures from residents of the community as well as UIC students. He invited residents that support him to sign his petition.
“Ring my doorbell during normal hours and I will come down and you can sign my petition,” Underwood said.
Provenzano said the UVA took its time in gathering information before coming to its decision. He pointed out that a month had passed after the UVA’s decision before Underwood’s meeting with the community.
“I applaud him for this effort. Unfortunately, it could have benefited him much more if he had done his ground work with the public months earlier, prior to coming to the UVA,” said Provenzano.
Staff writer Durrell Dawson can be reached at