By Mick Swasko, RedEye
12:20 PM CST, January 16, 2012
From Noon until Midnight, the Chicago Tattooing and Piercing Company at 1017 W. Belmont gave away the body art to mark the occasion, and celebrate the life of the influential sailor who learned the trade in Chicago.
By 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dale Grande said his shop had already inked 35-customers, a one-day record for one of the oldest tattoo shops in the city that came on an appropriate date: The 101st birthday of tattoo artist Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins.
From noon until midnight, the Chicago Tattooing and Piercing Company at 1017 W. Belmont Ave. gave away the body art to mark the occasion, and celebrate the life of the sailor who learned the trade in Chicago.
"I'm not big on crowds, but this is fantastic," Grande said, as a line of patrons wrapped around the outside of the building into the alley. "This couldn't happen for a better guy."
The event was sponsored by Sailor Jerry rum, who rewarded those who braved the long-wait and sting of the needle with a free rum drink. But Grande said the event was less about promoting Collins' namesake rum, and more about sharing his art.
"They wanted us to charge $20 for the tattoos," he said. "We feel like art is a valuable commodity, we would rather give them away than give a cheap tattoo."
For Matthew West, a 27-year-old Buena Park resident, the prospect of a tattoo on the house brought him to the Belmont studio after he said he'd put off getting his first ink for too long. After about 10 minutes on the table, West had a slightly shaded Swallow on his chest.
"I'm really impressed with it," he said, after tattoo artist Nick Colella, who was averaging three to five customers and hour, finished. West said he did research on Collins and his art before deciding on the Swallow design, which sailors would get for every 5,000 miles traveled at sea.
"This is how I envisioned what tattoo shops would have looked like in wartime," Colella said, adding that Collins' designs have influenced his own tattooing.
Though the tattooing of the approximately 20 preselected designs went quick for most, the line didn't. The alleyway alongside the shop was lined with discarded coffee cups and tall-boys in paper backs, as well as some frozen-over hand and foot warmers. Amber Chacon, 22, who came to the city from Deerfield for the tattoo, had been in line for three hours before making it within 20-feet of the entrance. Though she said she's chickened out in the past, she was confident she would be going through with it.
"I have waited here too long, I am going to do it," she said.
Inside, Amy Dvorak, 28, and boyfriend Cory Phare, 30, were close to being called for their turn in the chair. The tattoo wasn't the first they were getting together – they also have matching beer tats – and it also wasn't something they were going to regret.
"With tattoos, there may be a point where I don't like them as much, but they meant something at the time, and it's a good way to remember," Dvorak said.
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