OLDSMAR — Since moving to Oldsmar about a year ago, Jillian Langley Santiago has fallen in love with the city, "especially the friendly atmosphere in and around the library,'' she said. "I take my kids there at least once a week.''
And so when Langley Santiago, a tattoo artist, decided to open a tattoo shop, she chose to lease a storefront on St. Petersburg Drive E next to the Moose Lodge and across from the library.
She hoped to open the business Be the Canvas before April 1. She let herself imagine her sons, Ethan, 8, and Nathan, 6, playing in the extra room.
"And when they're older, they'd go across the street to the library to study,'' she said.
However, when Langley Santiago, 32, went to City Hall to apply for a business permit, she was told that a tattoo parlor is not permitted in the location she chose.
The 750-square-foot space is in a city-designated redevelopment area called the Town Center Commercial Neighborhood district, and businesses the city defines as "restrictive uses" — such as tattoo parlors and day labor operations — aren't allowed there.
"They pretty much laughed in my face,'' Langley Santiago recalled.
The Town Center Commercial Neighborhood district includes the area bordered by Tampa Road on the north; Bayview Boulevard on the west; St. Petersburg Drive S on the south; and St. Petersburg Drive E, State Street E and Clarendon Street to the east.
City officials did not return phone calls to comment for this story.
However, Langley Santiago received a letter from the city's planning and redevelopment department explaining that businesses that fall under the restrictive use category include "day labor operations, tattoo parlors, gun shops and blood plasma centers which are typically characterized by poorly maintained facilities, loitering and other indices of neighborhood deterioration.''
Langley Santiago strongly disagrees with the city's view of tattoo shops.
"I myself don't want to be next to a pawn shop or a gun shop. I'm a mother who will have kids at the business,'' she said. But, she added, "Everybody gets tattoos these days. My customers would be firefighters, nurses, everyday people. We would be supporting business in Oldsmar."
Langley Santiago took up tattooing to support her family.
"When I was going through a divorce with my first husband, I was working as a mural artist, but you really can't make enough money to support a family with that,'' she explained. "Eventually, I learned how to ink tattoos. ... Painting involves a canvas and a brush. Tattoos involve skin and a needle. It's art, just a different medium.''
Before moving to Florida, she owned a tattoo parlor in LaGrange, Ga., with Ricardo Santiago, whom she later married. When they decided to move to Florida to be closer to family, they closed the shop and put the equipment in storage.
Her old business neighbors in Georgia still miss her, said Lisa Ousley, manager of Yama, a sushi restaurant in LaGrange.
"There is nothing even open where she used to be,'' Ousley said. "She was upscale and brought people to the area. As a matter of fact, when Billy Bob Thornton was filming a movie near LaGrange, he and Kevin Bacon visited her tattoo parlor. I was here that day.''
In Oldsmar, one of the business owners in the center where she wants to locate is disappointed the city refused her request. Marciann McLane, 40, plans to open a do-it-yourself pest control company within 10 days. She and Langley Santiago signed their leases at roughly the same time.
"I did not think that she'd have any trouble,'' McLane said. "I understand the city wanting to protect the integrity of the area, but we are women, both sole proprietorships who are willing to do this on our own, and I believe we bring more, good diversity to this city.''
Langley Santiago plans to go to an upcoming City Council meeting and ask officials to let her open her business. Her landlord, Leff Combs, has agreed to attend with her. He said he hopes the city can be persuaded to reconsider the rules.
"The rules are strangling us as business owners,'' he said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.