Alexandria Gets Inked

Alexandria Gets Inked

Final approval rests with council.


James Marlowe in his Fairfax tattoo parlor: Marlowe Ink.

Twenty years ago, James Marlowe said it wouldn’t be possible, but by the end of the year Old Town may have its first tattoo parlor. Pending City Council approval on Sept. 12, 1314 King St. could be home to a second location for Marlowe Ink. The plans were approved at the Sept. 1 Planning Commission meeting, where members of the commission expressed their support for the proposal and more than a little confusion at the classification of the business.

“I was surprised that we have to regulate this as an amusement enterprise,” said Commission member Nathan Macek, “I think that’s an outdated notion of what this business entails.”

Marlowe says he’s no stranger to facing outdated notions of his craft, frequently battling stereotypes of tattoo parlors as drunken party spots.

“This is a safe place,” said Marlowe. “There’s an old preconception of drinking and partying: we don’t have that here. It’s quiet, and it’s focused on the art … it’s a real job.”

It’s not hard to see where the image comes from. Accessing the current location on Main Street in Fairfax requires passing down a series of long, dimly lit hallways. But inside the shop, Marlowe Ink is a professional operation. That’s the side of the industry that Marlowe hopes to show Old Town.

“We are really serious about bringing a high quality of art and tattoo art,” said Marlowe. “Old Town is artistic, but people are very serious about it, and I look forward to that.”

Marlowe has owned the Fairfax location since 2001, and since then he says he learned a lot about how to run a business and how not to. He approached the store as someone who is passionate about art and tattooing, and said there were bumps along the way in learning the business side of operations.

Expanding operations into Old Town isn’t going to be easy, but looking at the regional view of tattoo shops, Marlowe said it stood out as the one spot without coverage.

“In Alexandria, you have to bring your A-game, and that’s very exciting,” said Marlowe. He’s uncertain to how receptive Old Town residents will be, but he says so far the reaction has been positive. The sentiments on the Planning Commission seemed to echo that view.

“I believe [this] will make a wonderful addition to the community,” said Planning Commission chair Mary Lyman.

If all goes according to plan, the business will include a manager, two licensed tattoo artists, a rotating guest and a body piercer. If Marlowe gets his approval at the Saturday public hearing, Marlowe says he hopes to have the store opening by late October or early November, specifically targeting a Halloween opening.