The ink is finally dry on a permit that allows tattoo artist Babak Tabatabai to open his studio in the Broad Avenue Arts District.
Last Wednesday, Tabatabai was awarded the city's first-ever conditional use permit by the Board of Adjustments. The permitting was one of the amendments made to the Memphis-Shelby County Unified Development Code (UDC) in July.
The board voted 5-to-1 at City Hall to provide the permit allowing Tabatabai to open Ronin Design & Manufacturing, his tattoo shop and art studio, at 2615 Broad.
"My presence on Broad is going to be beneficial, because it will be another business open late to keep an eye out," Tabatabai said. "I'm also bringing business. If someone's getting a tattoo for three or four hours, their friends are not going to want to wait on them getting tattoos. It's boring. They're going to spend money [with businesses] around the area."
Late last year, Tabatabai signed a lease to open a tattoo shop and art gallery in the Broad Avenue Arts District. After investing nearly $30,000 in the building and its remodeling, he was notified by the Historic Broad Business Association that the area is a Commercial Mixed Use district. Under the 2010 UDC code, tattoo shops, palm readers, psychics, fortune-tellers, and massage parlors are all forbidden in these districts.
Tabatabai applied for a zoning variance, but his application was rejected. His half-finished shop sat empty for months, and because of his lack of income during that time, Tabatabai's house was foreclosed on, his car was repossessed, and he became delinquent on child support payments.
"This is my career. It's not like some hobby that I decided to take up the other day," Tabatabai said. "I questioned myself throughout this process if I was doing the right thing. I [questioned] if I was just being stubborn and if I should give it up and move on. But that's not the case. I have been doing the right thing all along."
Tabatabai plans to open his business in mid-October. Tattoos will be by appointment only. There will also be an art gallery with paintings and sculptures, as well as an art studio for graphic and furniture design. The business will operate Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays noon to 6 p.m.
Attorney Alan Crone attended the Board of Adjustments meeting to oppose Tabatabai's permit. Crone argued that providing the permit could potentially set a precedent for other applicants seeking to open businesses that do not conform to a district's zoning uses.
"I think it would be a dangerous precedent for this [board] to set that if you lose on your zoning variance application, you file for a conditional use permit," Crone said. "To add a tattoo parlor and to add the potentiality of other nonconforming uses is a danger to the development of the area. The particular area in that neighborhood is for entertainment and the arts, and adding a tattoo parlor to that mix is not conducive to the future advancement of the neighborhood."
Tabatabai is just thankful that he can finally get back to doing what he loves the most. "The whole opportunity to get a conditional use permit is not to set a precedent but to give a person the chance to prove that if they belong somewhere, that they should be there," Tabatabai said.