Tattoo artist finds where he belongs

Chris Sheehan thought he would be opening up Black Mountain's first tattoo studio last year, but things changed

Fred McCormick

Moving with his family to Black Mountain in early 2016, Chris Sheehan found within a few months what he thought was the perfect place for his appointment-only tattoo studio. It turned out to be less than perfect, however, because of a clerical error by the town and opposition by some residents of The Village of Cheshire.

So he took his business elsewhere. In January, he opened Mountain Temple Tattoo doors in Asheville's South Slope area. He knew he was in the right place, even if it meant a commute from home in Black Mountain, he said.

“Everything turned out amazing,” Sheehan said. “Ultimately I found the perfect spot, where I’m meant to be at this time.”

Sheehan is operating his business in Asheville in the same way he'd hoped to do it in a still-vacant space in Cheshire. His private studio is open only by appointment. There is no walk-in traffic.

Sheehan had hoped to establish his business in Black Mountain, where he and his wife are to raising their daughter, he said. Inspired by the town, he found a location he thought could work within the town’s zoning requirements for tattoo studios.

He approached the planning board last summer with an amendment that would allow his business to operate as a conditional use in the traditional neighborhood zoning district. The planning board approved the proposed change, recommending it to the town board of aldermen, which also gave it its tentatively approval. Aldermen scheduled a public hearing July 28. Sheehan believed he was on the verge of opening his studio.

The town had the first legal notice of the public hearing published in The Black Mountain News on July 21 - eight days prior to the hearing, and not withing the 10- to 14-day window mandated by state law - thus invalidating the amendment, Sheehan learned at the July 28 meeting.

More concerning to him, he said, were public comments during that meeting that made it clear to him that his business was not welcome. He decided to find somewhere else to open his studio.

“When the door closed in Black Mountain I knew I would have to expand my search outside of town limits,” he said. “I wanted to find something ideal for a place that was private and serene, in an artistic and creative environment.”

Sheehan searched for two months and found that the challenges he faced in Black Mountain weren’t unique.

“I had similar experiences when looking in Asheville,” he said. “There were certain commercial agencies that would not rent to people doing tattoos, regardless of the (business) model.”

He found a building in November that he felt was a “great fit.”

“The building I ended up in is a coworking space with a large area and individual offices people sign up to use,” he said. “They’re all supportive and were excited to have me.”

Business is going well for Sheehan since moving into his new studio.

His location suits what he calls his “niche market” of tattooing, which he said is not common in Western North Carolina. His designs are inspired by sacred geometry and employ intricate patterns.

"It's something that will really resonate with people who are looking in that particular market.” he said. “Even in Black Mountain, there were people who were excited when they thought I’d be opening up and who wanted to learn more about my work and philosophy on tattooing.”

While Asheville proved to be the ideal fit for his tattoo studio, Sheehan and his family continue to live in Black Mountain.

“We love the community in Black Mountain,” he said. “Everyone I’ve met is really nice. The idea of opening my studio there was originally about being able to do what I do right where I’m at.”