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After nearly 27 years of inking up townies and tourists, Gail Carter of Gailz Tattooz is putting away her tattoo gun for good. Carter plans to retire from her Glen Street business in the coming weeks. (Photo by Truth Garrett)

Gailz Tattooz draws to a close

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Tucked away on Glen Street, Gailz Tattooz has operated for nearly three decades, leaving an indelible mark not only on the skin of its patrons but also on the fabric of the community itself.

Now, after nearly 27 years, the longtime local tattoo shop is closing. Gail Carter, owner of Gailz Tattooz, spoke with the News last week about her career of making tattoo art and her decision to close the business.

Carter said her journey into the world of tattooing was an unexpected one, stemming from her background in computer graphics.

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“My husband suggested it because I had gotten an associate degree in applied science and computer graphics,” she said. “I found out it was frustrating because there was so much clipart, you didn’t get to draw as many things as I thought I would in the art industry.”

Entirely self-taught in her newfound art form, Carter took the plunge into tattooing and opened Gailz Tattooz with a simple goal —- to pay the rent by doing one tattoo a week.

“The economy is different, but usually I kept booked a couple months out during the warm season when people are thinking about tattoos from right after income tax till school starts,” she said. “That’s the season, and back-to-school people also lose their minds, and around Christmas.”

Carter said this May would have marked the shop’s 27th anniversary, and added that it has been witness to countless memorable moments over the years. Each tattoo, she said, tells a story — from unique requests, such as an orthopedic surgeon’s armband depicting the spine, to personal memorials like signatures of loved ones.

“Those are real special to me — writing, like maybe grandma’s signature, or the dog paw print — we really love doing those because they’re so special to somebody, and it’s an honor that they would ask us to do them for them and trust us with something so important,” Carter said. “So those are our favorites.”

Carter said she takes pride in the meaningful work she and her colleague, Dustin Cummins, who has worked in the shop along with her for two years, have created, ensuring that every client leaves happy with a piece of art that stands the test of time. She added, however, that there are some tattoos that have been off-limits for the shop over the years.

“We don’t do bad words, we don’t do Satan pictures, we don’t do jailhouse stuff,” she said. “We do quality art. I want someone to feel good about whatever I put on them and to love it forever. If I think they’ll regret it, I won’t put it on them.”

Carter said Gailz Tattooz became an institution in Yellow Springs, attracting a diverse clientele seeking not only tattoos, but also a sense of connection and community.

“We fit real good,” she  said, adding that, at first, neighboring families on Glen Street were “a little worried” to have a tattoo shop on their street.

“Later they came and thanked us for cleaning up the front and always keeping it nice and clean,” Carter said. “We’re here five days a week, so we watched little kids grow up and go off to college. They’re my friends and neighbors.”

The evolution of technology has significantly transformed the tattoo industry, Carter said, shifting from physical books of designs to digital images brought in by clients on their smartphones. During her interview with the News, Carter said she was busy sorting through stacks of sample tattoo art — most of which, she added, are no longer used by clients.

“Now we just Google it, you know — it’s right there and you can have a million options,” she said. “So people come in with it on their phone. Now, these tattoos are just decoration on the walls — hardly anybody picks them anymore.”

As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, Carter said she has faced her share of challenges, but ultimately embraced her role as a trailblazer. She said the Dayton Daily News once interviewed her because she was a woman tattoo artist, and “they didn’t have many around.”

“I tattooed a lot of grandmas who were more comfortable getting their tattoo done by a woman, rather than the great big biker guy,” she said, adding that she’s worked to ensure the  comfort of everybody who comes in, whether they’re young or old. Her oldest customer to get their first tattoo was 92 years old.

The friendly village of Yellow Springs and the tons of foot traffic were great for business, Carter said. However, the economic impact of recent global challenges, such as COVID-19, as well as personal considerations, have led Carter to contemplate retirement. Now, as she prepares to close the doors of her shop and embark on a new chapter of her life, she does so with a mix of nostalgia and excitement for the future. 

“It’s so bittersweet,” Carter said. “But 27 years, and I’m getting up in years, so it’s time to retire while I’m still doing good stuff.”

Looking ahead, Carter said she is uncertain about what the future holds, but she is eager to explore new passions and opportunities, whether it’s traveling, spending time with her husband, or perhaps even reconnecting with her love for animals. Both she and her husband, she said, have rescued animals for years.

“He was a licensed nuisance trapper, and he would get skunks or raccoons out of attics and chimneys. Then, we would bottle-feed the babies and relocate them,” Carter said. “So we have had squirrels and raccoons and crows and all sorts of possums — anything that got hurt that needed bottle-fed or something.”

Carter said she and her husband rescued one baby raccoon after it was abandoned in a barn — and continued to care for the raccoon for 14 years.

“Every kid in the neighborhood played with him,” she said.

She noted, however, that caring for rescued animals is an “around-the-clock thing,” sometimes requiring feedings every two hours. That part of the job, she said, was easy.

The hard part? Turning an animal loose after they’ve been rehabilitated, knowing they may fall prey to potential predators like hawks and owls. Over the years, Carter and her husband found a network of people who would allow them to put rescue animal shelters in their trees. This gave the rescued animals a place they could stay as they became reacquainted with their environment.

Throughout her career, Carter said she has remained steadfast in her commitment to quality and professionalism, prioritizing cleanliness, safety and customer satisfaction above all else.

“We didn’t cut any corners. We were sticklers about the cleanliness and the sterilizing,” she said. “We want to do everything perfect.”

As Carter prepares to bid farewell to her beloved shop, she said she hopes former clients will continue to remain in touch.

“I think most of my customers have my cell phone [number], because they sent me artwork on it and they’re texting me on that to make appointments,” she said. “So I think we’ll still keep in contact.”

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