Fri-yay the 13th: Tattoo Enthusiasts Get Lucky in RVA

Falling on what is typically considered an unlucky day, every Friday the 13th draws as swarm of people to 1800 West Broad Street. Aptly named Lucky 13 Tattoo, it is only 9 a.m. and there is already a long line encircling the premisis. Friday the 13th is practically Christmas for tattoo enthusiasts in Richmond, as $20 will get customers a high-quality, palm-sized work of art. With paper towels stacked high, the sweet, medicinal smell of Green Soap wafted into the lobby, a receptionist sitting poised among sheets of available “flash” tattoo designs to choose from, and a phone ringing ceaselessly against the hum of tattoo machines already inking away, Lucky 13 is a beehive of activity. Although it feels like Black Friday for tattooing, but we like to think of it as a customer appreciation day.

My first introduction to the Friday the 13th tattoo festivities took place during my undergraduate studies while covering the spectacle for a Richmond Magazine blurb. The event hasn’t changed much, but now, instead of serving as an onlooker to the madness, I’ve found myself elbow-deep in the melee tattooing alongside some of the same artists I had interviewed years prior. Four years of working in the street shop has taught me that each Friday the 13th has its own magic and few things cause a glow like a timid tattoo virgin looking at their new skin for the first time and smiling ear-to-ear.

Since trading my notepad for skin, and my pen for a rotary machine, I have a much clearer perspective of what Friday the 13th really means within this community. It’s not simply a day that eager college students flock to tattoo shops seeking a “sick deal” from artists who are just trying to make a buck. On this particular Friday, the first guest arrived at 5am to guarantee her entrance. Others melted in the blistering sun only to enter the lobby hours later incredibly sunburnt. Seasoned participants came prepared with water bottles, umbrellas, picnic lunches, and snacks for their favorite artists. Customers arrive alone, in pairs, and in clusters, but by the time they leave the sense of community is palpable. Gaggles of sisters arrive together for matching designs, moms get tattooed with their daughters for a unique scrapbook memory, birthdays are celebrated in the middle of the line, and before long, strangers become friends. Nervous first-timers are comforted by experienced tattoo enthusiasts they met just hours earlier, and freshly tattooed images are shown off with smiles, Instagram tags, and a mighty sense of accomplishment. 

Among the first-timers to attend was Sergeant Matthew Newman, who decided to take advantage of the foot traffic and set up an Army recruitment booth at the shop. Newman’s sister was my first client of the day and I got to talking to him later on about his decision to attract potential recruits and educate them on our stoop.  “Tattoos and the military go hand in hand,” Newman said. “I thought this would be a good way to engage and show face in the community in a unique way.” 

Newman, who joined the service soon after welcoming his first child into the world, chose a boomerang design positioned over his knee so that it bent along with his leg. “The thing about boomerangs is that they always come back,” says Newman. “It’s like deployment. You go away for a little while but I tell my family I will always come back.” 

The sheer volume of people trusting their bodies to us is hard to fully comprehend, and the day is nothing short of physically draining. That is to say, it is humbling to see so many supporting an industry myself and my coworkers so dearly love. It is inspiring and lifts me up that I’m able to experience so much enthusiasm and patience in one room, and gratifying to know that our work is truly appreciated.

By the time the last tattoo is bandaged  up and Lucky 13 locks it’s doors, we are exhausted, our hands ache, our backs throb, our stations are cluttered with caffeinated beverages, and we know we will need to order supplies to replace the bulk of needles and tubes we have used. However, we do it time and time again for the clients that so obviously love what we do. We have to wait until 2019 for the next Friday the 13th to come around, but like a boomerang, they always come back — and we’ll be ready. 

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