Tattoo artist Dwayne Holt thinks it is deplorable that anyone in Minnesota can open a tattoo parlor and start giving tattoos or piercing navels, noses and other body parts without a state license and no worry of state regulation.

"Any guy with a couple thousand dollars can buy a kit with needles and machines and go to work in their garage," said Holt, store manager at Anchor's End Tattoo in Duluth. "You couldn't get your hair cut by someone who just picked up a pair of scissors this morning."

Officials in the Carver County city of Watertown had the same thoughts. So when the only tattoo parlor in town closed in August, the City Council quickly moved to ban tattoo parlors until it could create a city licensing procedure.

"We have nothing against tattoos," Council Member Rick Mann said. "We want to protect our citizens."

Holt, who has been pushing for statewide regulation of the Minnesota's 750 or so tattoo shops, said he supports Watertown's efforts.

"If some of these smaller communities started regulating," Holt said, "at least it helps the cause."

Holt said Minnesota is one of only a few states that don't regulate tattoo parlors and tattoo artists. He also pointed out that only two of the state's 87 counties -- Hennepin and Anoka -- have tattoo regulations.

Meanwhile, he figures thousands of tattoo artists are working out of a garage or their parents' basement across the state.

"For every stand-up establishment, there are three or four guys working at home," Holt said this week. "You wouldn't want to go to a plastic surgeon who works out of his garage."

A desire to be preemptive, along with health concerns, are what spurred officials in Watertown, a city of about 4,100 residents, to enact its one-year moratorium.

Mayor K.J. McDonald said the city has had only two parlors over the years, and there were issues with the businesses being open late and youths hanging around.

There also were concerns raised about the sanitation of the equipment used and the lack of background checks on those doing the tattooing.

"Cities do regulate them," said Jeannette Bach, research manager for the League of Minnesota Cities. "All those issues are at the top of the list of concerns for cities."

A matter of timing

The closure of the Wolf Moon tattoo shop gave Watertown the chance to address the issue with no harm to an existing business. And the push to act increased when city officials found there is no state or Carver County regulation over tattoo parlors.

The council's goal is to have an ordinance in place this fall.

"We always thought the state had an ordinance but they don't. We should at least regulate to protect the youth and make sure they use sterile equipment," Watertown Council Member Steve Duske said.

A bill for statewide regulation of tattoo shops stalled in the Legislature this year. It included provisions to have tattoo parlors pay $1,000 for a three-year license and having tattoo artists pay $100 per year for a license.

The bill, which was attached to a larger bill, never made it to the floor for a vote, leaving communities unregulated.

"It's an issue that the local people would not like to have around," said McDonald, the Watertown mayor. "I personally don't like [tattoo parlors]. But you can't deny someone the opportunity to have a business."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280