‘With what you’ve got’
Wenda Kennedy has a simple enough philosophy when it comes to business and even life.
To make the most of one’s situation it’s best to do as much as you can with what you’ve already got, she contends.
“We live our lives like that,” she said Wednesday. “It’s a whole philosophy of use what you’ve got. My grandmother told me, ‘Waste not, want not.’”
That same mindset has lead Kennedy through her current project.
She saw an out-of-work tattoo artist, a pile of beetle kill trees, a community need and business opportunity. Needless to say she jumped.
The sum of those needs are being molded day by day off the highway in Nikiski, slowly forming a cordwood building that will ultimately house In the Skin — a tattoo parlor under the charge of local artist Joe Hayes.
“You use whatever you can to the best of your ability and everything that you’ve got that you can use, you don’t have to buy,” said Kennedy, who will own the business. “That’s what this project is all about.”
Unlike Kennedy, the tattoo shop isn’t Hayes’ first venture into the industry. He’s been tattooing for more than 25 years and during the six years he has been professionally inking clients in Alaska, he has helped open two other shops.
The first was the original incarnation of In the Skin located in Seward, which eventually went out of business.
“When you make $15 for two weeks, it’s like, ‘Yeah, we had better look elsewhere,’” Hayes said.
The second was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, a tattoo parlor that was damaged during a car accident in Old Town Kenai in September of last year. The building was condemned by the city for a period, Hayes said, but his relationship with the establishment’s owners had soured and he started looking elsewhere.
“Little things after that with the other tattoo shop just kind of, well if you are not happy at a place, just walk away,” he said. “That’s what I did.”
Kennedy, who owns Nikiski Village Mobile Home Park employed Hayes, also her tenant, as a carpenter for the winter, but had other plans for the artist.
“She just came to me one day and asked me if I would like her to build me a tattoo shop,” Hayes said. “Then my jaw hit the ground.”
Kennedy owns the highway frontage property the building will be situated on.
“I said, well we need to build you a building,” she said. “So we all got together and everybody has been helping.”
The building, unique in its cordwood design, has already been attracting attention from passersby on the highway.
“We have about six people a day stopping in the area to look at the building,” Kennedy said.
In addition to incorporating the second-hand wood, the windows and doors are coming from other recycling efforts.
“This is definitely a do-it-yourself project,” Kennedy said.
The second-hand nature of the business was an essential part of getting it off the ground, she said.
“Everything in Alaska is so expensive, to do anything is so expensive,” she said. “So what you have got to do is find a way to do it with what you’ve got. This building became possible because we were able to use cordwood and we were able to put the wood on our mill and it made it financially possible to do. If I had to go out and buy this stuff, I couldn’t do this project.”
In addition to the tattoo aspect of the business, Kennedy and Hayes will incorporate a coffee bar with limited food service — a request of the local residents and Hayes.
“Joe said he couldn’t do tattoos without coffee,” Kennedy said with a laugh.
“Anybody that’s been tattooed by me knows that,” Hayes said.
Eventually, Kennedy hopes there will also be art from the community hanging from the building’s walls and shelves filled with local crafts for sale.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur for all these years and I’ve been self-employed since I was in my early 20s,” she said. “The anxiety of it is doing it on budget.”
Hayes said he is confident that once the store is open, it will do well. He contends there aren’t many places on the Peninsula to get a tattoo these days and most of the business travels to Anchorage.
However, Hayes, originally from New Jersey, said he already built a large client base, some who have already called wanting to set an appointment for their inking before the store is scheduled to open in mid-August, he said.
“That’s the way it goes with tattooing — somebody sees something they like and the word travels really fast,” he said.
An apprentice and his daughter Sam, who recently finished her tattoo apprenticeship, will join Hayes in meeting the parlor’s possible demand.
“She is getting to be quite the artist,” Hayes said of his daughter. “Plus, what she has picked up from me over the years.”
“I’m waiting for these doors to open and get tattooing again,” he said. “I’ve been missing it.”
Kennedy wants the building to be more, though. She’d like it to serve as a community center — a “neighborhood hangout” as she put it — for the area.
“This is for the community,” she said. “It is important to have places like that. You have to realize that I have people here in my park that have no place to go.”
And much like a good tattoo, Kennedy said the word about the business is already spreading quickly.
“Everybody is so excited about this building and everybody talks to us about it,” she said. “They just can’t wait for us to get it done. This is probably the most exciting thing going on in Nikiski.”