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Should tattoo shops reopen? They struggle as authorities disagree.

Pinellas says yes, Hillsborough says no. But that may change with new clarification from the state: The answer is no.

TAMPA — A guerrilla-style cell phone video has attracted nearly 8,000 views since it was posted to YouTube on Saturday.

It opens in the Ybor Cty studio of Atomic Tattoos and Piercing, where Tampa code inspectors and police officers wearing face coverings communicate their confusion in sideways glances, uncomfortable pauses and empathetic nods while the manager implores them to let him stay open.

“It’s like everybody’s just been guessing and every county has done it differently, but we can’t close sir,” general manager James Langner tells the officers, amid the buzz of tattoo guns. “We didn’t get stimulus, we didn’t get unemployment. Those two right there both have newborn children ... I’m godfather of that man’s 4-year-old daughter, and we just chipped in to pay his rent the other day because he was going to be evicted. I’m not stopping ... even if I have to get arrested or whatever, I can’t do it man."

According to the state’s official business portal, tattoo and body piercing shops are part of the Personal Care Industry — the same designation given to barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, massage parlors and spas.

But while those businesses were allowed to reopen to customers last week under an executive order from the governor, tattoo parlors were not, leaving shop owners and tattoo artists in limbo. Many are independent contractors, ineligible for unemployment assistance in Florida, Langner said. And if they’ve followed state orders, it’s been nearly three months since their last paycheck.

But they can’t count on any relief for now. A spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that tattoo shops are not included among the select industries allowed to reopen in the first round of Florida’s “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan.

Tattoo artist Jeremy Fath works on a tattoo for client Samantha Ousley, 29, of Clearwater, Thursday, May 21, 2020 at Moniques Body Art in Clearwater. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

DeSantis announced Phase One of the plan May 4, initially allowing only restaurants and retailers to open as part of his plan to jump-start a Florida economy that’s tanking amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

But then came protests from every corner of the state. DeSantis responded, allowing hair and nail salons to join the shortlist of businesses approved for reopening May 11, followed by gyms and fitness centers May 18.

Related: Barbershops and salons can reopen Monday in most of Florida, DeSantis says

Violating the executive order is a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida law, punishable by up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500 or both.

The appeals continue from tattoo artists.

On Thursday, Jeffrey Ziozios, owner of Bay City Tattoos in Ybor City made his third plea in a row before a bi-weekly, live-streamed meeting of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group.

Ziozios, a 22-year veteran of the business, asked the group to help clear up the confusion on whether tattoo parlors can legally open.

Pinellas and Hernando counties say yes, while Hillsborough — like most of the state’s 67 counties —maintains that the omission of tattoo parlors from the governor’s Phase One orders was deliberate.

Sheriff Gualtieri and County Administrator Barry A. Burton are live to answer your questions about the Full Phase I Reopening #COVID19 #SocialDistancing Pinellas County Government

Posted by Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 18, 2020

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. and County Attorney Christine Beck reiterated that position Thursday, telling Ziozios the county has no authority to supersede the state’s order.

“I feel like it was just an oversight because I’ve now looked through the governor’s entire proposal to open up shops, all the way through Phase Three, and we are never mentioned,” Ziozios told the group. “They also excluded scuba diving instructors. They’re never going to go back to work again under this kind of logic.”

He took issue with a decision March 25 by the Hillsborough group naming tattoo parlors among the “non-essential businesses” that must close under the county’s “safer-at-home” order. The order was lifted May 4 and the county has been following DeSantis’ directives ever since, Beck said.

Tattoo artist Jeremy Fath works on a tattoo for client Samantha Ousley, 29, of Clearwater. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

“The clarity that you would need to reopen would be from the governor,” she told Ziozios. “I would be happy to try to assist you further, but it is not the (county) order that is preventing your opening.”

Shop owners find this position hard to square with what’s happening in Pinellas County, where County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Monday that, in the absence of guidance on specific industries, the county will follow the 35-page report of unofficial recommendations issued by the governor’s Task Force to Reopen Florida.

Pinellas officials say their interpretation allows tattoo parlors as well as movie theaters, concert halls, auditoriums, bowling alleys, arcades, playhouses, and casinos to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Hernando county officials have also allowed tattoo parlors to reopen as Personal Care businesses but stopped short of reopening theaters just yet.

Police and code inspectors have allowed at least four of the 12 Tampa Bay area shops operated by Atomic Tattoos and Piercings to stay open even after they received calls to shut the operations down, shop owner Langner said. Among the company’s locations are Clearwater, Lakeland, Tyrone Square Mall and Westfield Brandon Mall.

In the YouTube post Saturday, Langner held a no-contact infrared thermometer in his hand while he spoke with the authorities who had been called in to shut his business down. Checking visitors’ temperatures at the door is recommendation by the Florida Professional Tattoo Artists Guild.

Tattoo shops in Florida are already expected to meet rigorous sanitary standards rivaling any medical facility to maintain their license from the state Department of Health, the guild has said. Licensed tattoo artists are trained in handling bio-hazardous waste and cross-contamination. Most wear personal protective equipment like masks, eyeware and gloves and work inside medical barriers with single-use, sterilized needles.

Now, shops also have pledged to operate on an appointment-only basis, with 15-minute cleaning sessions to disinfect their stations between each customer.

Tattoo artist Jeremy Fath works on a tattoo for client Samantha Ousley, 29, of Clearwater, as a bottle of alcohol is seen in the background. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Under the guild’s guidelines, customers also will receive an online consultation to keep face time to a minimum and will be required to complete a questionnaire about their potential exposure to COVID-19. They must wear masks, too.

Authorities didn’t shut down Atomic’s Ybor City shop Saturday night after all. After a brief discussion among themselves outside, they told Langner it’s his decision — for now.

“I can’t tell you that you can stay open," one officer said on the video, “but I’m also not going to shut you down today ... I’m going to try to find some kind of clarification, and maybe you’ll never see me again.”

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