Friday the 13th, sometimes referred to as Black Friday for tattoo shops, is a tradition where those new to ink and the tatted up alike can get a small, often predesigned, tattoo that includes the number 13 in the design, priced at a highly discounted rate. These flash sales usually involve long waiting times, lines down the street of the shop, and tired tattoo artists.
While popularity of the Friday the 13th tattoo has increased throughout the country, it’s not easy to find a shop in Philly that will be participating in this enduring custom.
Dallas tattoo artist Oliver Peck is widely credited with popularizing this tradition. Before he opened Elm Street Tattoo, was a judge on reality show Ink Master, and married (and later divorced) tattoo artist/makeup mogul Kat von D, Peck inked up clients at the now-closed Pair O’ Dice Shop. In 1995, the shop held a 24-hour event in which customers could walk into the shop and leave with a fresh tat for just $20, $13 for the piece and $7 to tip the artist.
Philadelphia shop owners have not entirely cast aside the tradition. Among the participating shops is Hunter Gatherer Tattoo, near Spruce Hill, which will continue to offer the special this year with a $50 minimum. The shop will accept walk-ins only and is advertising its participation with a Facebook event.
Tattoo chain Body and Soul, located in Upper Darby, is also offering a sale. For the last five years, the shop has rolled up the sleeves and pant legs of customers on a first-come-first-serve basis and charged $40 (including tip) per half-dollar-sized tattoo.
Many shops, though, have stopped the promotion altogether.
Places such as Old Liberty Tattoo and Art Machine Productions in Fishtown, which participated last year, will not celebrate Black Friday this July. Frequency Tattoo near East Falls also will not be participating. Unlike the other shops, Frequency posted on its Instagram feed to notify customers that it would “NOT be doing a shop flash day.”
PLEASE READ: Frequency Tattoo will NOT be doing a shop flash day this Friday the 13th. We appreciate everyone who has expressed interest, but we’re having scheduling conflicts preventing us from having a full staff available this Friday. Please feel free to contact us for regular booking. #fridaythe13th
A post shared by Frequency Tattoo Company (@frequencytattoocompany) on
Pete Zebley of Central Tattoo Studio on West Girard Avenue explained in an email that the shop’s nonparticipation stems from several factors: artists being booked for months, the lack of demand from clients, and the shop’s artists’ lack of “interest in taking on small dogs — tattoos.”
South Street shop Moo Tattoo will have Friday the 13th specials for the fifth year in a row but avoids what shop owner Noah Webster refers to as a vibe of hysteria that is typically associated with the day.
“We’re more Ikea and Bon Appétit magazine than anything else,” Webster said with a chuckle. “We actually visit Bon Appétit several times a day.” Artist Zack Traum nodded in agreement from across the room.
Webster has developed a system for Friday the 13th that has made the occasion comfortable for his shop and its customers. Moo Tattoo releases its flash sheet to the public; prices its small, more traditional options at $31; tattoos through the weekend of the 13th; will only take clients by appointment that can be made on their website; accepts submissions; and keeps track of those participating using an app, called Spark, all in an effort to navigate the sale better.
“There’s so much room for misunderstanding. This eases questions, makes it more efficient, and we’re comfortable with it,” Webster said.
Webster acknowledged the common backlash toward participating in these sales. He referenced a cartoon in which a tattoo artist points out everything that is wrong with Friday the 13th — from the depreciation of the art to the demoralization of the artist — and then is excited to explain how he ended up with a 13 on his body.
Traum himself has a Friday the 13th tattoo. Years ago, when he had a day off from his culinary school’s cheese-making class, he stumbled onto the tradition in a Wisconsin tattoo shop with his friends. He and his then partner decided to choose a design for each other. Traum left with a pair of hairy legs in high heels by his ankle.
“People who are against [the event] have probably participated in the past,” Webster said. “Do I like it? No, but it’s in the business. If I had a bar, I’d sell margaritas.”