It was not yet the summer of 2013, and I had hit a low point in my life. Over the past few months beforehand, I had completely removed all semblances of my former life. After a tumultuous ending to a long-term relationship, a parting of the ways with the tattoo studio I was working at, and a move back to my hometown of Welland, I was desperately seeking something new in my life. I had gone through similar transitions before, where everything I had know had disappeared or changed so radically, and this always left me feeling low. I knew that during such times, what was necessary was not only change, but something new and inspiring in my life that I could devote my self to turn the tide of pessimism that was encompassing my days.
I had little hope for Welland at the time. The recession thought to be over, still lingered like a bad hangover in our community. The factories that had been the backbone of little city in Niagara were now all but gone, their employees laid off, and the slow demolition of these great massive hulks of industry were disappearing from the landscape. Already, the empty brown-fields surrounded by chain link fencing that were once sites of great industry and history were overgrown with weeds, the realtor signs fading, and the garbage lining the fences like post-industrial decorations for a holiday that never came. Many important, and not so important, landmarks of business and industry were fading away, being torn or burned down, shuttered, windows empty like soulless eyes, covered in the make-up of wooden boards, realtor information, and the occasional graffiti. In a city that had seen a long slow decline of industry since the 1980’s, the bottom felt as though it had given out. We were not a ghost town, but many pondered if that were to be our fate, with few jobs in the city, few prospects for new employers, and the ominous feeling that we were going nowhere, with nothing to do, and that nothing could be done except watch or leave and make our fortunes elsewhere.
It was in this environment that I decided to set up shop. I had been contemplating renting some space for myself to continue to do my tattoo work on the local clients I still maintained, with the hopes of leaving monthly for trips to Alberta, where I could also work and tattoo. I had hoped that such regular trips could continue to fund my efforts of maintaining a space, and I sought one out, in hopes to create a home base for myself, and have the freedom to pursue other creative interests I had, such as writing and painting. These sorts of interests were either discouraged or downplayed while working at other studios, and I felt the string desire to pursue all of my creative interests equally, giving the same amount of time and energy into all my projects. To think that I could rely solely on the income I might receive tattooing locals in my town was the equivalent to business suicide, so I did not consider it as a business, but more as I was self-employed with the need to rent space for my artistic outlets. At any rate, I began looking for cheap space, which was becoming readily available in a seemingly failing city.
I had considered doing this beforehand in other neighbouring communities, hoping their local affluence might be effective for me, though I was doubtful of how well I’d fit in with those locals. I had investigated some possible places, but grew discouraged at either the price, neighbourhood, or in one case, the property owner made me feel very uncomfortable with my choice of profession and appearance. I did have one spot left in mind that I had left for last consideration in Welland, and, on the advice of a friend and “financial advisor” I decided to make arrangements to check out the place.
I met with the landlord on an early May afternoon at the appointed time. I and my “advisor” were also in attendance, and we were greeted by an older Asian gentleman with an easy smile and mellow personality. After quick introductions, we entered the address at 75 West Main Street.
The place was still in the midst of some minor renovations, and the bare walls of off-white clashed with a blue and silver wallpaper at the back. A bench lined the front window, also a weird blue that did not compliment the beaten up brown-paneled floor. The dark stains and scratches on the floor, the landlord explained, were from the last tenants who had operated a hair salon until the business had outgrown the place, and they had dragged chairs across the floors leaving many gouges. On the other side of a wall, was the second half of the address, having once been two addresses long ago until at some point they had been joined. In this area, he had stored a number of fixtures such as a refrigerator and water heater. He explained that he could install a sink in this room, as there were water lines located there, and this would suit my needs. I was much more interested in the first open room I had entered, pondering what to do with it.
My friend, noticing the lighting set up, stated that it would make a nice gallery of sorts, if I wished to pursue my arts there, and that I’d have ample display space on the walls for this. My landlord also agreed that it could be used as such. I began to get a good feeling about the place. It was in a very old building, with actual historic designation being proudly announced by a plaque on the front of the building.
“How does this place feel?” I asked my company.
“It feels right,” responded my friend and advisor.
I expressed a desire to rent the place, and asked for the terms from the landlord. He stated that we could do a month to month lease, or if I wished a full year’s lease, he would redo the floors. Since I was unsure of my future prospects in this location and city at the time, I stated that I wished for no lease. As well, I assumed id also be beating the floors up over time with my art projects, so I saw no need to replace the flooring until after I had finished renting out the space. At the time, I did not think I would last in this location for a year, nor did I want to be tied to it, in case I decided to pack up and go West again for good. I was also planning a trip west soon, so I could make and save up some funds in the meantime. The landlord was happy to hear I was interested, and explained that I could be in the place by the end of the month possibly.
“I’ve never had a problem finding tenants for this place,” the landlord explained. “But they always seem to start a business here, then get too big for the place and move somewhere bigger, so I’ve had a hard time keeping tenants here.”
I assumed I would also eventually leave this place as well, as I assumed I might eventually give up the place and move west again, or that perhaps I would in the future go to another tattoo studio or some other place of employment. I had hoped for one good summer here, and that was as far as I planned.