Tattoo shop opens in Old Fuller Store

Paco Rollins demonstrates how his hand-built tattoo machines work. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Paco Rollins demonstrates how his hand-built tattoo machines work.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Few people would count tattooing among Vashon’s cottage industries.

But then again, few people know an Islander designs and builds some of the world’s best custom tattoo machines, and he just opened a tattoo shop on the Island.

Paco Rollins, 36, opened Sea Change Tattoo on Friday, Feb. 13, to spend more time on the art of tattooing. He’s been a tattoo artist for 15 years, but recently was more focused on building tattoo machines than inking clients.

He’s looking forward to the time he’ll spend on body art in his new shop in the Old Fuller Store, he said.

And though the economic slump may make it a challenging time to open a tattoo shop, Rollins has seen steady success so far.

“Tattoo artists in hard times have done really well,” he said. “Tattooing has always been an industry that weathered hard times well. Just look at World War II. People document the good times during the bad, or just document whatever change is going on in their lives.”

On his opening weekend, he was booked solid and did three substantial tattoos in his first two days of business, including one of a panther in a top hat for a fellow tattoo artist.

“If things continue to go just as they are right now, there’s no reason I would ever have to close the doors,” Rollins said on Monday. “I’ve gotten a really warm welcome from everyone.”

Sea Change’s arrival on the Island commercial scene is a welcome counterpoint to the closure of two Island establishments this month. Back Bay Inn in Burton closed its doors on Sunday, two days after Rollins’ shop opened. And the Island’s only auto parts store closed unexpectedly two weeks ago.

“There’s so much stuff that’s closing its doors,” said Paco’s wife Laura Rollins. “It’s really scary to see what’s happening here on the Island. It’s a huge leap of faith that we’re opening right now.”

Rollins’ one-room shop joined a barbershop and a recently opened book store in the Old Fuller Store, so “it’s a busy little building again,” Laura Rollins said.

In fact, the intersection of Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road is looking more vital than ever. Not only is the Old Fuller Store full of new businesses, but across the highway is Chilkat Trader, a large antique store; across Cemetery is Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie and the Minglement.

Rollins’ new tattoo parlor may help bring wider exposure to the eclectic collection of businesses at the intersection.

He said he expects some of his clients to come from off-Island, and so far half the appointments he’s made are with people coming to Vashon to be inked by him.

He’s also booked a few top-name artists from different parts of the country to be guest tattoo artists at Sea Change for a day or two — which could also be a big draw for customers from miles around.

The freshly painted shop is inviting, even to those who may be tattoo-free. Its walls are plastered with posters of vintage tattoos from the 1920s to 1950s, and on its opening weekend the decor was simple and festive.

Paco Rollins Machines, the electric tattoo machines he’s been making for 10 years, are popular nationwide and even internationally. Just this month, he’s shipped hand-built machines to Singapore, the Netherlands and Lithuania.

Rollins, like almost all tattoo machinists before him, bases his design on the machine Thomas Edison developed in the 1870s as an engraver used for sign-making.

Today, Rollins has his machine-making down to an art. Each one takes him a little more than an hour to make — after he’s designed prototype parts. Electromagnetic coils move a tattoo needle up and down 60 times per second, driving the tattoo ink into the skin.

Paco Rollins Machines are popular in part because other tattoo artists know his company is a small one, but also because “they are a simple, good-working, artist-built machine that’s fairly priced,” he said.

Rollins dubbed his shop Sea Change Tattoo, Laura Rollins said, because the tattoo industry has recently experienced just that.

“There’s been a big change in the attitude about tattooing,” she said. “Sea Change is talking about a new feeling that we’re bringing to the Island. It’s a really cool phrase for when everything is changing — and so much in the world has been changing in the last year.”

Sea Change

The new shop at the intersection of Vashon Highway and Cemetery Road is open 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 1 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome.

Call 408-7067 for more information.

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