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Flash Friday: Chicago tattoo shops celebrate Friday the 13th

Ally Zacek

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Most people would advise against any major decision-making on one of the most superstitious days of the year, but tattoo artists have begun embracing the spooky holiday, permanently inking thousands of people with cartoon iterations of rabbit’s feet, black cats and other miscellaneous occult symbols.

Superstition surrounding Friday the 13th may date as far back as the Middle Ages, possibly with Biblical origins. It’s most highly associated with the Last Supper, where Jesus and his 12 apostles were gathered, with Judas being received as the 13th guest.

(Ally Zacek/The DePaulia)

The human aversion to the number 13 has even gone so far that there’s an identified phobia, known as paraskavedekatriaphobia, which is the fear of Friday the 13th. Due to this superstition, elevators, and many hotels, will omit a 13th floor altogether, jumping straight to 14.

All superstition aside, since the 20th century, Friday the 13th has risen as a cultural phenomenon, and even businesses have even begun capitalizing on the hype.

Each Friday the 13th has now become a popular day for people to get small tattoos at a cheap price and for local tattoo shops to generate more business. Lines began to form outside of tattoo shops across the city hours before they open with hundreds of eager customers waiting for their turn to be tattooed.   

Pink Rhino Tattoo in Boystown has been running a Friday the 13th has risen as a cultural phenomenon, and even businesses have even begun capitalizing on the hype.

Each Friday the 13th has now become a popular day for people to get small tattoos at a cheap price and for local tattoo shops to generate more business. Lines began to form outside of tattoo shops across the city hours before they open with hundreds of eager customers waiting for their turn to be tattooed.   

Pink Rhino Tattoo in Boystown has been running a Friday the 13th special since they opened in 2014. They offer $31 tattoos of any design that fit in a 2-by-2 space, but the deal has gone through some changes since its conception.

“Early we had a lot of people kind of want to take advantage of the situation and they want to get a big piece for $31. That’s not going to happen,” shop owner David Herrera said. “We just had to start implementing stricter rules on that because people will come in wanting something too intricate.”

Now, customers can either bring in their own designs or get a tattoo from a flash sheet offered by the shop. The flash sheet includes simple pre-drawn options most of which incorporate the number 13 into the design. Several other tattoo parlors around Chicago including Taylor Street Tattoo, Twisted Tattoo and Mind Crusher Tattoo offer similar deals. Many of these shops and more across the country offer $13 tattoos with a $7 tip.

Days are long for the tattoo artists catering to so many customers when they offer the deal. Herrera estimated that he tattooed 40 people when they were open last Friday the 13th in January and he didn’t leave until 6 a.m.

“Some of the guys here even ended up staying until 8:30 the next morning, and the cut-off time for sign-ups is at 9 p.m., so you just have people waiting around to get tattooed,” Herrera said.

The line outside of Pink Rhino Tattoos as customers await their $31 tattoos on Friday the 13th. The tattoo deal started at 12 p.m. and the line began growing at 11 a.m.
(Rachel Fernandez/The DePaulia)

One of the tattoo artists working at Pink Rhino on the chaotic day was Curtis Smith who goes by Rabbit. He has worked on several Friday the 13th’s and finds those days to be the most stressful, but also the most lucrative.

“You don’t get breaks, you can’t eat, you can’t smoke cigarettes, you can’t do nothing but give tattoos back to back to back,” Rabbit said. “The best part is that you make a lot of money, but you’re too tired to spend it the next day.”

Customers cycle in and out in only a matter of minutes as the artists permanently ink hundreds of people with their art or often with custom designs. Rabbit has given hundreds of tattoos from previous Friday the 13th events and each experience is unique. The pandemonium makes for an interesting day for the artists in terms of designs they get and people they meet. 

“We get a lot of different designs, so it’s hard to pick a favorite one, but probably giving the Batman logo on a guy’s butt cheek was my favorite,” he said.

Gabriel Velez, 19, was one of the customers waiting in the line at Pink Rhino when their doors opened at noon looking to get “a good piece at a decent price.” He brought his own design of the Chicago skyline that he trusts in the hands of the artists at the shop.

“I know the artists are really good,” Velez said. “I did a bit of research before, I looked at their Instagram and website and compared them to a couple other places.”

Through all of the tattooing and waiting, Friday the 13th pays off by giving the artists exposure and giving shops more business.

“We like doing this because it’s great promotion and it’s been sort of a way to say thank you to the people who have been supporting us for the past three years,” Herrera said.

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Flash Friday: Chicago tattoo shops celebrate Friday the 13th