Over the past few years, over a dozen tattoo shops have cropped up throughout the growing Broad Street pocket and its surrounding areas — from high-end boutique shops to budget tattoo joints, members of the Richmond tattoo scene are increasingly rubbing elbows.
You might expect that all this competition would be bad for business, but Lucky 13 Tattoo Shop, the largest tattoo shop in Richmond, has been more than successful at keeping its head above water. The secret? Good service, fair prices and humility.
“Things haven’t really changed over the past 15 years,” Brad Buehrle, owner of Lucky 13, said. “We were busy back then, and we’re busy now. We just treat people good and give them fair prices, and they just come back over and over again.”
Buehrle’s dedication to customer service is maintained by his staff. Many of the artists he works with today have worked at Lucky 13 since the day it opened its doors in 2003.
Dana Carlson, a tattoo artist, has worked with Lucky 13 for three years. “We’re a big shop with a lot of personalities,” she said. “It can be a very loud, vibrant environment at times — you can always expect witty banter and good music. We pair clients with artists not only by style preference, but also by personality.
“It’s important to be comfortable while getting a tattoo — you are so close to your artist in that moment. We offer really great customer service. You’re going to get a little bit of sarcasm, some spunk, and we’re going to put you with somebody who’s going to deliver what you want.”
Luxury tattoo shops may be growing in popularity, but Lucky 13’s goals remain the same.
“Something special about Richmond is that we have these incredible, high-end boutique tattoo shops where you walk in and spend $1800 on a tattoo,” Carlson said. “But there are also really good, quality artists at lower price points. You can still get a good tattoo, and great customer service for just 100 bucks.”
Originally from California, Buehrle opened his shop with a mission to spread good vibes throughout the tattoo scene, and keep things new and vibrant.
“Back 10, 15 years ago, everyone who walked into a tattoo shop had a shitty attitude,” Buehrle said. “I wanted my tattoo shop to have good vibes, and for people to have fun. Richmond isn’t quite as diverse as California, but it’s a great city. What brought me here is that everyone was tattooing the exact same stuff, and I wanted to change that. We’re all working towards getting there, and we’re having a good time.“
Buehrle has tattooed all around the world, but he remains humble.
“I’ve tattooed around the world, three or four times, and it’s all the same,” he said. “I wouldn’t say Richmond has a better or worse tattoo scene than other cities. At the end of the day, I’m just a tattoo artist.”
According to Buehrle, his staff consists of a variety of tattoo artists and showcases many talents. From portrait artists to colorists to those who have studied traditional japanese tattooing, Lucky 13 prides itself on its versatility.
“You can get a traditional tattoo, or one of the little pinterest tattoos that you bring in off the internet,” Carlson said. “We have a lot of choices. There’s somebody for everybody.”
With regular clients, new clients and those who come from all over the country to get a tattoo at Lucky 13, the staff has seen its fair share of odd, and meaningful requests.
“I did a decapitated Hello Kitty, with its guts hanging out, on a lady’s foot once,” Buehrle said. “I’ve been doing this shit for 25 years, I’ve seen it all.”
Carlson emphasized, however, that as a tattoo artist she tries not to interfere with other people’s ideas, even if the meaning of a tattoo may not be clear to her.
“It’s not our job to tell people what to get on their bodies,” she said. “It’s our job to educate them about their ideas, so that the tattoos can last longer and look professional. Essentially, our job is to make people happy. Sometimes people come in with really off the wall ideas, and it’s our job to make it work.”
When I asked Buehrle what the most meaningful tattoo he’d drawn was, he was hesitant to choose one. Eventually, he told me about an 87-year-old lady who comes into the shop every year on her birthday to get a new tattoo.
“This little 87-year-old lady came in and got the same tattoo her husband had gotten during World War II,” he said. “He had died. She wanted the same tattoo of a hula girl he’d had, and I managed to find the original drawing of his tattoo. She’s got about five or six tattoos now.”