Exotic Body Works celebrates 25th anniversary – Hammonton Gazette

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HAMMONTONKeith Titus, owner of Exotic Body Works, a downtown tattoo shop, will be celebrating his businesss 25th anniversary on March 4. Last year the shop was closed for three months due to the pandemic.

On March 19, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy ordered the closure of all personal care businesses, which included tattoo parlors. It wasnt until three months later that Murphy would sign an executive order allowing tattoo parlors to reopen on June 22.

It was insane for three months last year. Eventually I would literally come to my store and sit in here and clean or just come here and meditate because I needed to get away from my house, Titus said.

Since reopening, the shop has taken extra safety precautions including placing signage about wearing masks and social distancing, taking peoples temperatures and having an occupancy limit. With the occupancy limit, the shop isnt allowed to have more than the person getting tattooed in the chair unless they are a minorwho is allowed one parent or guardian.

The stations were already spaced out pre-pandemic, which allowed social distancing, and the artists were already familiar with sanitation practices.

We were already doing sanitation practices based on blood-borne pathogens. Now basically, we had to take it up a notch, Titus said. Cleaning now includes pens, doorknobs, handles, etc. which are all wiped down.

Currently, there are no walk-ins. Appointments are scheduled over the phone or online.

Once it was in the news online and the news broadcasted tattoo shops reopened we couldnt keep up with the phone calls, the emails, the everything. It was insane, Titus said.

To help with scheduling, Titus hired an assistant over the summer because it was hard to keep up with the large amount of people who wanted an appointment.

Overall, its been positive. I didnt expect the outcomewhen we reopened I honestly thought people would be scared to come out still, Titus said.

March 4, 2021 will mark Exotic Body Works 25th anniversary and Titus 46th birthday. He opened the shop in 1996 when he turned 21.

When I first opened, it was still very taboo. Initially I had trouble finding a place to rent in town. Everybody I called, once I said its for tattoos, didnt want to talk to me or refused to talk to me, Titus said.

The landlord eventually gave him a chance, but even the landlord was apprehensive because he thought it would attract motorcycles in town, but Titus wasnt a biker.

Titus said that, in the 1990s, there were three tattoo shops in Atlantic County; now there are about 30.

Tattooing, style-wise has changed a lot, like a whole lot. Theres a lot of new equipment, machinery; the machines are totally different now Theres a lot of high-tech stuff now. Theres wireless machines. Theres definitely innovations now that are making tattooing way different. The skys the limit on designs now, especially with the internet, Titus said.

Titus and Brian Bocker still draw their designs by hand, even with new technology available.

Titus has tattooed people from all aspects of life.

Now theres people that weve never done tattoo, that are getting tattooed because theyre comfortable, he said.

Some of his clients are from Hammonton, but the shop attracts people from all over the tristate area, from teenagers to grandparents.

When asked about the most rewarding part of tattooing, Titus said, The fact that youre able to put something on somebody for the rest of their life and they trust you. It feels nice to put something on people that sometimes changes their life. People have that reminder every day to them. Some people get memorials, inspirational pieces, that are on them forever. A lot of people they just want to walk around with your artwork, your creation on them. Its an honor. It really is an honor, Titus said.

Exotic Body Works has been in the same building on Central Avenue since 1996.

Ive been in this location so long, its hard for me to separate from it if that makes sense. People know were here. I literally had to move two doors away back in 2007 and 08 for structural issues in the building and people had no idea where I was, Titus said.

Titus has been tattooing since he was 15. Even before that, he was offered an apprenticeship by a family friend.

Ive been around this since I was 7 or 8 years old. My father and my mother had friends and family that were tattoo artists in Philadelphia. I was offered my first apprenticeship when I was 10, but my mom was like, No way! Youre 10 years old! he said.

Before he decided to be a tattoo artist, Titus had plans on being a plumber. He went through four years of vocational school for plumbing and he did well with it, but tattooing took over his life.

When hes not tattooing, hes at home with his daughter Zayla and helping her with virtual learning. Photos of his daughter and his artwork cover the orange walls around his station.

Im a single parent too, so thats really hard too because Im at my business half the day. Luckily my mother helps me with her. But I wouldnt have it any other way. My daughters awesome. Shes great, and she loves the fact that Im a tattoo artist. I dont think she realizes the coolness of it yet because shes only 7, but I know one day shes going to realize that her dads job is really, really cool, Titus said.

Courtney Errera is a longtime client of Titus whos known him since he opened almost 25 years ago. Shes currently adding Disney themed tattoos on her leg, so far she has Cinderellas castle, Dumbo, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and recently Nemo.

We were laughing the other night. I was like, you were around my kids when they were in diapers and newborns and now youre tattooing them, Errera said.

On January 7, 2021, Titus tattooed bats on Erreras son, Nathan Rodriguez, which is his fourth tattoo. He said hes going to add doves to his sleeve in the future. One of Rodriguezs previous tattoos included a memorial for his father, who died in 2019. Errera said her family only goes to Titus.

Whatever you want. He will literally make it come to life. Like we couldnt find any Dumbos that look realistic. He drew that to make it look realistic, Errera said.

Bill LaManna, the piercer at Exotic Body Works, has worked with Titus for eight years.

The guys like my best friend. He taught me how to do what I do. He gave me a chance. It worked out I spent every night with the guy for the past eight years. Ive been friends with him for probably over 10. Its kind of like I married him, LaManna said.

During the three months they were closed, LaManna was able to make money from his day job at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.

I still had my state job. These guys lost all their income. I lost half my income, he said.

When the shop reopened, LaManna was busy piercing. Sometimes he would have 20 people in a night.

Im sick of looking at both of them [Titus and Bocker] honestly. Everyone watches these TV shows and theres like all these half naked girls running around and its a big party and its all fun and games, but no, its just three guys in here working together, staring at each other, LaManna said.

In the past, theres been three tattoo artists and Titus plans hiring another one this year.

Exotic Body Works is located at 4 Central Ave., and Titus is currently booking tattoos for April and Bocker is booking for March. To make an appointment call (609) 704-9266 or email Titus at exoticbodyworks1996@gmail.com or Bocker at bbockertats@ yahoo.com.

Follow Exotic Body Works on Facebook and the artists on Instagram @ebwtattooktitus and @brianbocker.

See the article here:

Exotic Body Works celebrates 25th anniversary - Hammonton Gazette

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