The tattoo artist etched the outline of a cross on Tony Grillo's back as he lay face down on a soft leather bench. Grillo, from Beacon Falls, is getting his fifth tattoo, and he explains his addiction.
"I like the way they look, and some of them have meaning," he said. "I am getting the cross to match the one my girlfriend has. The Southern Comfort tattoo is because I am from New Orleans; it has nothing to do with alcohol. I am going to have my son's name tattooed next.”
Rob Gramlich, one of the owners of the tattoo studio, at 195 Rubber Ave. in Naugatuck, said that over the last few years, tattoos have become more mainstream.
"People from 18 to 80, from all walks of life, have them done," he said. "We had a woman who started coming in when she was almost 90 and she got a new one every year until she passed away."
While he wears a long sleeved t-shirt, Gramlich's colorfully decorated forearms are clearly visible.
"We all do custom design," he said. "I start with a sketch and clean it up on a light board. Most popular tattoos are still a rose, a cross, or a name. It has been like that for more than 50 years."
These days, more women are coming in for tattoos than men, Gramlich said.
"The most common place for women to have them are on the shoulder, the upper arm, and pretty much everywhere else," he said.
For those who are squeamish, Gramlich assures the process is not very painful.
"There are some spots that are more painful than others, but different people experience pain differently," he said. "For most, it is more of an annoying pain than an intolerable pain."
There are a few important things to keep in mind when selecting a tattoo parlor, Gramlich warned.
"It is extremely important that the place is certified by the Board of Health, and that all instruments are sterilized with an autoclave," he said. "One of the reasons to go to a certified parlor is to avoid any kind of infection."
Gramlich's second reason was more aesthetic.
"Not everyone who does tattoos is an artist," he said. "If you ask to see their portfolio, you will have a good idea if the person giving the tattoo will do a good job."
No Regrets Tattoo has portfolios on display for all three of their tattoo artists. Greg Merola has worked at No Regrets for three years.
"I am definitiely an artist as much as a tattoo artist," he said. "I like to paint oils, and I am perfecting my portraits because I want to be able to tattoo them, too."
"Everyone here creates their own designs," Gramlich added. "We all paint, draw, and some of us sculpt. We are all artists."
Almost on cue, a young man came into the shop and asked for a job. Gramlich asked him if he had a portfolio and when the young man answered he did not, Gramlich told him he would need one in order to apply.
"The week between Christmas and New Year's is typically busy because people have the week off. But the season really begins when everyone gets their tax refunds. Then we are busy through November," Gramlich explained with a grin. "I may never be a millionaire, but I live comfortably, I love what I do, and I am happy."