Arcade Mall 2 (copy)

Ophidian Tattoo, planned to open in Columbia's Main Street Arcade Mall, is hung up by regulation prohibiting it from locating within 1,000 feet of a church.

For those unfamiliar, Tattoo You was a 1981 album by the Rolling Stones. The old-school vinyl LP featured the megahit “Start Me Up,” while the album cover featured elaborate tattoo art. 

I’m now suggesting the phrase “Tattoo You” also be the rallying cry for the City of Columbia to fight the state Department of Health and Environmental Control in court (if necessary) over the antiquated regulation that could prohibit the opening of the city-approved Ophidian Tattoo parlor in the Arcade Mall on Main Street.

That blast-from-the-past DHEC regulation treats tattoo parlors like bygone brothels, prohibiting them from locating within 1,000 feet of a church. Both the absurdity and antiquity of that attitude are not just philosophically but also personally apparent when you think about all the people you know who have tattoos these days. 

Like family members and friends. Or mothers and daughters (and grandmothers, too). Same for fathers, sons and grandfathers. And lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and, yes, ad agency people.

Especially ad agency people — though not this one, as I never liked needles. Not even two-second flu shot needles, much less hours-long sessions with body art needles. Growing the goatee was the best I could do when it comes to presenting the creative guy look.

Kidding aside, this is a serious matter for the owners of Ophidian Tattoo, who have poured their time and money into the business and its new location, only to see it all threatened at the last minute by one more government regulation after so many others have been met.

As Free Times reported on Nov. 22: 

“The tattoo shop already had to clear city hurdles. The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals on July 9 gave its unanimous approval for a special exception for Ophidian to open on Main. Tattoo shops were not previously allowed in the city’s central business district.”

And that’s not all — even the city’s elected officials were in support of the move. The story continues: 

“The zoning board’s approval for Ophidian followed a June vote from Columbia City Council that created a pathway for tattoo establishments in the city center.”

Based on those political and regulatory approvals, tattoo artists Shannon Purvis Barron and Chelsea Owen had moved ahead, readying their new studio. 

But as the opening date approached, you might say someone decided to throw ink on their plans. And smear it around. And smear them and their profession too. 

Again, I have no tats and won’t be getting any. But I certainly do recognize the art and artistry that is present in many tattoos. 

So if that’s your thing, have at it. Hopefully, you’ll get a good one in a good place (or several in several good places) and be happy with them for life. Because you’ll be stuck with them for life, so choose wisely. And soberly. Or at least while sober. 

That said, the idea that DHEC should have anything at all to do with the location of tattoo parlors is absurd. Health and safety regulations for tattoo parlors from DHEC? Of course. DHEC telling them where they can locate? Of course not. 

Further, the idea that DHEC would be able to ban a tattoo parlor location due to its proximity to a church is not only antiquated but also a screaming violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. 

Finally, there is the issue of how the 1,000-foot distance is measured, be it from the main door of the church sanctuary in question or a door closer to the edge of the church campus. When that is put forth as a serious discussion, you know this is an unserious matter being pushed by unserious people. 

In sum, the idea that a state agency can overturn approvals given by both a city council and local zoning board — and that the reversal can be based on something that has nothing to do with “health and environmental control” but rather is a matter of “church and state” — is a legal theory for 1920, not 2019. 

Accordingly, the City of Columbia should sue DHEC to overturn the state regulation in order to uphold its own authority to zone and approve businesses. It’s a matter of both home rule and common sense. 

And tell them Tattoo You.  

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email

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