The Kiva NYC Team went to Bed-Stuy Brooklyn to visit Abuela’s Tattoo and got inked for their Friday the 13th
Mandi and Sam took out a loan for Myrtle Tattoo Ink Parlor (renamed: Abuela’s Tattoo) at the beginning of last year. Soon after, they secured a space to provide local artists with supplies and a clean working environment. Though they were busy, we had a chance to learn more about their busy year of change, growth and success.
Q: Since you applied for your Kiva loan, you've changed your shop name to Abuela's Tattoo. Can you tell us what is behind the name change?
As mentioned in our profile, we are surrounded by Sam's Puerto Rican family. Grandma and Grandpa own the building our shop is in. We didn't think we would be able to put the shop there as Grandma had an image and preconceived notion of what tattoo shops were like. According to Grandma, only "hoodlums" got tattoos and it wouldn't be safe to have a tattoo shop so close. Once we showed her we had the capital to start the business and convinced her tattoos are now accepted in society, she finally said yes and let us rent and put up shop in their existing storefront.
Once we renovated the space and opened she became our "manager"." She lives across the street and is always watching over the shop. If someone is standing in front of the shop before we open, she will walk over and ask "Can I help you?" She is so proud of her grandson and thinks she needs to watch over the Artists. In honor of giving us a chance, we renamed the shop Abuela's because it really is her tattoo shop.
Q: How has your business added to the community?
For our clients: The neighborhood is really changing! We are surrounded by Pratt Institute students that are all in the arts of some kind. The median age of our neighborhood is now 29 years old, which is also the median age of folks getting their first tattoo. The neighborhood continues to become more young and hip. The folks that have been in the neighborhood for over 30 years (Sam's grandparents and friends) see the shop bringing in young people and are happy to see the neighborhood revitalized. Most of our clients that come in are excited to have a tattoo shop in the neighborhood. We continually to try to brand our shop - which is why Friday the 13th is so important. We want the neighborhood to know we are open for business.
For our Artists: Interestingly enough, most of our artists are from the NYC 5 boroughs and are of Spanish decent. Sam and I want our shop to be successful for us, but it's also extremely important to succeed for them. We very much want to provide a place the artists can make a living doing what they love. Our guys all have a great story of how they became a tattoo artist and 2 of them have daughters to provide for. If we can provide them a place to work, we help feed their family. That is the best reward for us.
Q: What challenges did you face that you used the Zip loan to address?
Our biggest hurdle was our future landlord. We really wanted Sam's family to let us open the shop in the property they own. We were prepared to look elsewhere for available storefronts, however, we also knew how hard it is to secure a commercial lease with no business credit in New York. We needed to show our future landlord (Abuela) that we were serious and had the capital to back it up. Our Kiva loan helped convince her.
Q: How is your business doing now?
We have been slow to grow, but growing nonetheless. We don't have a lot of money to put into advertising and branding so we've had to do it grassroots. Social media has helped us tremendously. The longer we are open, the more clientele we are getting. We had a rough winter and fell behind on our loan payment, but we aren't giving up hope. We have talented artists and a great looking shop. We know that if we show that to the world, people will come!
Q: What do they hope to achieve now that you've used your loan? What’s your vision for the future?
We want to get to the point that our artists are booked all the time. We are all devoting time and effort into building a great reputation for the shop. Our artists take their work very seriously and want people to look at our shop as such. They do custom original artwork and we are really proud of that. They are amazing! We just want the world to see their talent and line up to get some work done.
Sam and I don't want to stop at owning a tattoo shop. We would love to open another business someday. Who knows, Kiva might help us do that in the future!
Mandi and Sam - photo from their Kiva loan