Laguna Tattoo marks 30 years of business

Not many tattoo parlors can claim Billy Idol tattoed in their shop.

Stephen Crome, owner of Laguna Tattoo, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, remembers the story of the rock icon tattooing his autograph on the rear-end of an excited female fan in '88.

Unfortunately, Crome wasn't there to witness Idol's moment as an artist, even if it was only for an hour.

Crome, 58, started at the parlor 23 years ago and bought it from its previous owner Pati Pavlik three years later. He said he was drawn to its atypical location at 656 S. Coast Hwy.

"We were used to going to shops in the slums of Philadelphia and Chinatown," he said. He got to know the community and didn't mind the ocean views.

The small white cottage — nestled beneath artsy bungalows and a stone's throw from Taco Loco — has an airy, open vibe.

What tattoo artists call "flash" adorns the walls and ceiling, images of tattoo art that Crome admires and has collected over the years — mostly comprised of 1940s and '50s traditional American artwork.

Brian Taylor, 28, has been tattooing at the shop for the past five years.

"I like the history of the shop," he said. "Lots of great artists have passed through here over the years."

Leo Zuluetta tattooed at the shop in the late '80s and early '90s; he's known as a pioneer in tribal tattooing in the U.S., Crome said.

"We get people from all walks of life," Crome said. "We get people 18 to 80, in every profession."

He recalls one interesting client at the shop, an 85-year-old woman. She was legally blind and carried an oxygen tank, he said, and her husband had just passed away.

The woman told the artist that her husband was always against tattoos and now she thought it was time to get one, even though she couldn't see it herself. She got a butterfly.

"I think it symbolized evolution for her, a new life," he said.

While they've had every type of request over the years, Crome said they don't say yes to everything.

He says the shops ethics' — such as refusing to do racist or offensive content — and friendly atmosphere has kept them in business as tattoo shops started popping up over the years.

"Sorry we don't do stuff like that," he tells customer's with those requests. "We do art here."

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