OLDSMAR — If you're an artist, you don't have to be a starving artist. That's the realization that drew muralist Jillian Langley Santiago to tattooing when she lived in Georgia.
But in Oldsmar, Langley Santiago's passion for the industry is costing her big time. She has paid $800 a month in rent and water bills since February on a St. Petersburg Drive E storefront as she fights for the right to open her own tattoo parlor.
Oldsmar's city code prohibits tattoo parlors and body piercing shops in the downtown district, lumping them in the same category as outfits like pawn shops and gun shops. They are labeled as signs of "neighborhood deterioration."
To push for a change that would allow her to open up shop, Langley Santiago shelled out an additional $600.
"If someone says no, it's going to be heartbreaking," Langley Santiago said.
The City Council voted June 17 to draft an amendment to the ordinance that would allow for tattoo and piercing businesses downtown. The council must hold two public hearings for the new wording. City officials expect that the ordinance could be approved at the July 15 council meeting.
Councilman Jerry Beverland opposes the initiative.
"This is our redevelopment area," he said. "We start changing things down in our redevelopment area that we set up, when does it stop?"
Langley Santiago's shop, Be the Canvas, would neighbor the Moose Lodge bar, a real estate office and Bug Busters, a pest control company. The public library is across the street.
Library director Bert Weber would also like to see the restriction on tattoo parlors upheld.
"We're not happy," she said. "Originally the library was supposed to anchor this side of the town and make it more upscale. I don't think a tattoo parlor or a boutique is going to do that."
Bug Busters owner Marciann McLane, who has gotten to know Langley Santiago since February, said she supports her tattoo business opening next door. The two signed their storefront leases around the same time.
"As a woman, I feel like we've been tested in this city," she said. "We're business owners, we're women, we're moms. Our kids are here all the time. This is not some shady operation."
Langley Santiago has two young children and a third on the way. She imagines her kids spending time in the library after school while she takes customers.
In addition to helping her family, she believes Be the Canvas will boost the downtown Oldsmar economy. She saw success in Georgia, even attracting attention from actor Billy Bob Thornton.
The tattoo process lends itself to customers spending more money downtown, Langley Santiago said. After a customer chats with her about a design, she needs time to sketch the idea. That gives the client free time to eat a meal or visit other shops before returning to get inked.
"They're going to go out, they're going to do stuff and they're going to come back after it's drawn up," she said. "They're going to have money to spend."
Julie Kliegman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman on Twitter.