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Local entrepreneurs think ink with opening of tat shop

There’s a new business making its mark on Claremont. Last month, Victorious Gallery became the first ink shop to open its doors in the city in years.

Your parents may not have any tattoos, but this is definitely a mom and pop enterprise.

Hector Javier “JP” Paramo and Diana Avila are a great advertisement for the possibilities of online dating. They fell head over heels in love and soon brought their respective families—Mr. Paramo’s two children and the two of Ms. Avila’s kids who are not yet grown—together, Brady Bunch-style, at his Rancho Cucamonga home.

The couple not only found that they were romantically compatible. They were also both entrepreneurial-minded and in search of the perfect business opportunity. Tattoos fit the bill.

With four tattoos, Mr. Paramo respects the art of ink. Ms. Avila has tattoos on both of her shoulders that she considers deeply meaningful. One is a reproduction of rose from her late father’s coffin. The other, a tribute to her widowed mother, is a canary perched on a rose bush. Sentimental considerations aside, they also know that tattoos are also big business. Last year, the industry nabbed a starling $2.5 billion in the United States alone.

The matter of location was a tricky one.

They decided to find a place in Claremont, with its charm and rich cultural atmosphere. It wasn’t easy. Claremont may have lifted a 15-year ban on tattoo parlors in 2011, but it didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet. While each of the tattoo artists also paints and draws on paper and canvas, the city has stipulated the business can’t sell any artwork or present itself as an art gallery. Victorious Gallery was offered only two placement options, both far from the Village and its beneficial foot traffic.

They decided against a site south of the railroad tracks, instead settling on a spot in an industrial complex north of Foothill Boulevard, between Claremont Boulevard and Monte Vista Avenue. They’ve warmed the place up nicely, decorating the waiting room and halls with vintage furniture, paintings by their tattoo artists and objets d’art and oddities ranging from a mannequin torso sheathed in a red satin corset to an antique payphone to a unicycle.

Their locale may be obscure but Mr. Paramo, a graphic artist, and Ms. Avila, a marketing specialist, figure they have the skills to spread the word that you can get world-class body art in the City of Trees.

“We have to put in three times the effort into advertising and marketing,” Ms. Avila said. “We had the opportunity to go to cities that would have allowed us to be street-front, but Claremont’s beautiful.”

It doesn’t hurt that the shop is located right across from the Claremont Craft Ales and its airy tasting room, which is gaining a dedicated following.

Once the matter of setting was agreed upon, the couple began focusing on the issue of quality.

“We realize Claremont is a large art-loving community and wanted to adopt a like-minded philosophy,” Mr. Paramo said.

After an intense two-week interview process, settled on five resident tattoo artists: Manuel Cruz, Dave “DR” Hill, Nikki Blaize, Zack Moore (Zack M. to his clients) and Diana Lopez.

“They’re all great,” Mr. Paramo enthused.

Each artist has their own specialty. While he’s a versatile artist, Manuel Cruz has a penchant for Star Wars imagery. Dave Hill does pointillism, rendering exquisitely shaded images dot by dot. Ms. Blaize likes to evoke pin-up culture, among other influences. And Ms. Lopez is a master at photorealistic portraiture and also loves creating images of beautiful women who have been transformed by death into Day of the Dead iconography.

With its permanence, tattooing is a high-stakes business. There is no room for missteps. On a few occasions, Mr. Moore has worked for as long as nine hours at a stretch on a single large piece. Afterwards, he said, he is exhausted, like he’s been taking a huge final. 

But even bad tattoos make good business. Mr. Moore spends a lot of his time obscuring tattoos that, to be blunt, are stupid and poorly executed. He has, for instance, turned a spiky-looking sea horse into a planet-spattered cosmos.

As unique as much of Mr. Moore’s work has been, he said there are some tattoos he gets requests for over and over. Roses and skulls are huge. Many people ask for the same quotes, with a popular selection being some immortal words by Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien: “All who wander are not lost.” American flags, the distinctive outline of the state of California and crosses are other perennial favorites.

Mr. Paramo and Ms. Avila are looking forward to becoming part of Claremont’s booming business community, where they hope they can help dispel some myths about the world of ink.

“We just want people to realize that the tattoo industry is not full of bad people and hooligans,” she said. “My tattoos memorialize my parents. Everyone has their reason for it, and the artists are just amazing. You have to look at their sketches.”

With the help of word-of-mouth and social media campaigns on the part of Victorious Gallery and its respective tattoo artists, business is starting to pick up. The shop even hosted a daring bachelorette party recently, during which an entire bridal party got inked.

The business hopes to give back to the community as much as possible. With this in mind, they will be hosting a fundraiser to benefit Shoes That Fit on August 8, 9 and 10. When anyone comes in for a tattoo on that day, 20 percent of the proceeds will go to the local nonprofit.

Victorious Gallery is located at 1420 N. Claremont Blvd, Suite 102B in Claremont. For more information, call  (626) 347-1425 or visit

www.facebook.com/victoriousgallery.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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