Bert Grimms' World Famous Tattooing may well be one of Long Beach's historic landmarks. For decades the legendary ink shop enjoyed a steady stream of business thanks to its location on the rough-and-tumble oceanfront amusement park known as the Pike and the healthy supply of sailors in the area. But with the closing of the Long Beach Naval base and the subsequent closing of the Pike, the tattoo shop saw its customer base drop off significantly. Today, the business remains the last of the Pike merchants, due mostly to its reputation for great tattoos. Staff Reporter Conor Dougherty talked with Rick Walters, the shop's manager, about Long Beach history and the gradual acceptance of tattoos as a legitimate form of art.
"The shop opened in 1927. Back then it was called 'The Professionals.' Bert came out from Kansas City in the late '40s or '50s and the shop has been in his family ever since. Bert was famous for doing a lot of big, full-body tattoos. And he was one of the first people to start doing tattoos with thinner lines, which makes the tattoos last longer.
"The Pike started in 1902 and business was good through World War II, the Korean conflict and up to Vietnam. But in 1972, they closed the Navy base and moved the entire 7th Fleet to San Diego. In the '80s they opened the base back up. The battleships New Jersey and Missouri and their support ships were stationed here for eight to 10 years. Business picked up during that period, but it was still never like the '70s. And then they closed the base down again.
"Today most of our business comes from our reputation. When the amusement park was here, everybody knew where we were, but now we're the only business on this street. There's a parking lot and a tattoo shop that's it. Before, there were eight tattoo shops within a block of this place.
Most of our business comes from word of mouth. The average tattoo runs about $100. That would buy you a small eagle or a small dragon, maybe a couple flowers with a name.
"In the '60s and '70s, it was a lot of military and bikers getting tattooed. You didn't get very many blue-collar people. In the '80s, we were doing mostly bikers and waitresses, people who were working at nightclubs. Then in the '90s, everyone was getting tattooed. Doctors, lawyers I actually tattooed a Catholic nun about 10 years ago.
"Tattooing is one of the oldest art forms known to man. It's weird that it took so long for the form to be accepted. There is a college textbook on tattooing called 'Marks of Civilization.' A whole chapter of that book is dedicated to this shop. As a matter of fact, there is a picture of me tattooing some guy's back. It's kind of cool being in a history book."
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