Trade your toys for body ink (or piercings) at Fallen Owl Tattoo

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Sublime's "Santeria" is playing over the speakers at Fallen Owl Tattoo when owner and artist Adam Rose introduces himself, his shop and his mission: "We're a solid old-school shop, and we have old-school values. We're very focused on the children." In the flier for the West Colfax studio's latest project, that idea is depicted literally: Two toddlers play with a toy train while showing off full-body tats.

It's a little unsettling, but its heart -- Rose's heart -- is in the right place.

That place lies pretty close: The proceeds from the store's latest entry into charity will go directly across the street to the Jeffco Action Center in about two weeks. From now through December 1, the latest Fallen Owl project will give customers either a $50 gift certificate or a free standard piercing (no genitals) for every three new, unopened toys they donate. Although Rose personally hopes for a truckload, the store is already stacking up a decent pile of toys in the corner of its lobby -- right next to a flip book of body art options.

The idea comes directly from Rose's childhood in Santa Cruz, California, where he suspects he was often in the same position as the children who will later be on the other end of these donations. "I grew up with an older sister and a single mom, and I'm sure she'd never admit it, but she probably used charities just like this one," Rose says. "Our economy is in the tank, but the kids don't need to know that, especially around Christmas. That's supposed to be the best time of the year for them."

Today, Rose has no kids, just two "purebred mutts," but his sister's role as a single mother continues to motivate him. Earlier this year, Fallen Owl participated in another round of charity as part of a project to benefit the Flobots' Youth On Record nonprofit: Twenty-seven tattoo artists from ten Denver shops designed and auctioned off skateboard decks, with 100 percent of the proceeds doing to the organization. At the end, only two decks remained unsold.

As Rose talks, he is adding the most recent layer to a frequent customer's back piece. "I'm done," he says. "Do you want to keep it?" Fallen Owl evolved out of Body Graphics, the shop formerly located across the street, when Rose bought it out two years ago. Altogether, it will have graced the block in some guise for fifteen years this January. The studio sustains three artists and one piercer, and the pile of presents in its lobby is rapidly growing.

"My mom always used to take extra jobs during the holidays in order to give us presents, and I'd like to think that we're helping out parents in that same situation," Rose says. To date, his favorite Christmas present is the surfboard he received at age twelve: He earned sponsorships for a former competitive surfing career immediately after. "We've had out-of-state clients mail in gifts, and most people are donating way above the minimum we ask for," he adds. "It's great to know that our customers care as much as we do, an we're happy to tattoo them for it."

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