After more than five years at their small shop at 1668 Marion Street, Marion Street Tattoo had to move: The city is booming, and the storefront that houses the shop and a photography studio will be torn down when the entire block becomes an apartment complex. Marion Street owner Ryan Willard got the bad news on January. "It’s shocking. It’s super-sad, if I’m honest," he says. "I put basically my whole life into Marion Street Tattoo and my vision for what that is."
A proponent of neighborhood businesses, Willard had chosen the original location because it reflected his idea of a home-grown tattoo shop that interacted with the community. "I thought [the neighborhood] was funky and different," he says. "Marion Street has always been a little different, more co-op based. It was a gallery space, we had musicians play. It was a very organic art space."
And the search for a new home wasn't easy. The rent at most of the storefronts he visited was triple what Willard had been paying. "It was completely untouchable for a small business to sustain," he says. A few realtors offered him a solution: hire more artists. But that's the opposite of Willard's vision for his business. "We have four artists, five when we bring guests artists in," he says. "We keep it small. We’ve tried to keep it very home-grown — what I think small business should be."
It's not just Marion Street Tattoo that is suffering from what Willard calls Denver's "growing pains." The city has attracted an influx of people attracted to the Mile High lifestyle, with innovative businesses, craft breweries and dispensaries just miles from the great outdoors. But skyrocketing rents are making it harder for the businesses that started it all to sustain themselves. Some of those businesses are raising prices, but Willard doesn't want to make tattoos an inaccessible luxury. "I don’t think just someone with a big pocket full of money should be the one getting a good tattoo," he explains.
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Willard finally found a new spot at 2823 East Colfax Avenue, and the shop made the move last week. It was bittersweet, Willard says; while it's exciting to open a new place, it felt like leaving home. But even though the tattoo shop is now on East Colfax, it kept the Marion Street name. "Myself and Nate Stephens, Brandon Huckabey and A.J. McGuire, we’ve worked super-hard to build the reputation for Marion Street," Willard notes. "We’ve put tons of energy into it and I’d hate to change the name."
While they're already up and running at the new shop, the Marion Street crew will host a grand opening the weekend of June 20, with music, giveaways, $80 tattoos, drinks and special guests, including a few Broncos.
In the midst of change, Willard stresses the importance of remaining a part to the city's creative community. "We in Denver are super-proud of what makes us so cool," he says. "We need to make sure we support actual small businesses. We need to pay attention to the changes that are happening so we don’t lose our city to them."