Natalie Roelle, co-owner of Voodoo Monkey Tattoo, the oldest legal tattoo shop in the city, is opening her second tattoo shop in Cleveland, this time by herself.
Roelle had to file for a zoning variance for her new shop because it borders a residential district, a church, a school and a library. In December, Cleveland’s Board of Zoning Appeals granted the variance.
Roelle’s main reason for leaving Voodoo Monkey is that she needed a change of pace. She learned cosmetic tattooing at Beau Institute in New Jersey and wants to incorporate it into her new shop.
“What I’ve learned initially here is makeup,” Roelle said. “It’s eyebrows, eyeliner and a lip color. It also does include scar camouflage and areola rendering, which I haven’t gotten trained for, but I’m hoping next year that I can go back. I would love to provide that service. I don’t know that there’s a lot of places around here that do that or do it well.”
Roelle has been dancing around the idea of opening her own tattoo shop for a few years and decided at the end of 2020, she was going to do it on her own.
Her new shop, Olive Ink, is going into the second story of Blazing Saddles Bike Shop, owned by Travis Peebles, Roelle’s partner, at W. 74th St. and Detroit Ave. in Detroit Shoreway. They began renovations in January 2020 until the shutdown in March following the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to pause renovations.
“Since August, we’ve been slowly chipping away at it and I’m paying for everything out of pocket,” Roelle said.
Roelle has been a tattoo artist for 20 years, and her work reflects her inspirations: Japanese prints and Asian artwork, Alphonse Mucha and floral and organic work with color.
“It’s kind of a grab bag from art history that I learned when I was in my education part of my career,” Roelle said. “Since then, I feel like I’ve morphed a little bit more into the tattoo world. Trends kind of come and go, [but] I feel like these are kind of timeless.”
Going forward, Roelle’s business plans rely on a combination of social media, advertising and word of mouth. Most of her clientele came to her through word of mouth.
“You do good work, solid work, word gets around,” she said. “That being said, Voodoo Monkey has been voted Cleveland’s best tattoo shop for many years in a row and that reputation alone brought a lot of customers my way.”
Roelle leaving Voodoo Monkey is amicable. The shop will be leaving her work on their website for about a year to help redirect customers to Olive Ink to see Roelle.
For Olive Ink, Roelle’s plan is to keep the shop small and manageable.
“I’d like to provide the highest quality work from the best artists,” she said. “Same on the cosmetic side, but I would also like to provide those services that I think are kind of sparse in this area, areola reconstruction and scar camouflage.”
From her experience, Roelle said tattooing is absolutely a male dominated field.
“When I was going through [opening a shop] the first time, it was always obvious that I was the only woman around, but I guess I never really thought that much about it,” Roelle said. “It wasn’t like I was sitting around going, ‘God, I wish there were more women around here.’ I mean, it was noticeable, but it’s also the kind of thing that never stopped me.”
Roelle is set to move into her shop in the coming weeks and will be having a soft opening for her first month before promoting Olive Ink.
Madison MacArthur is a journalist and recent Kent State University graduate. This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab at Kent State University.
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