by Christopher DePaul
“If I put on a suit, I wanna look like a gentleman,” Eric Perfect says sitting on a sleek leather chair in the waiting room of his new shop, Kadillac Tattoos at 7102 Germantown Ave. (at Mt. Pleasant) in Mt. Airy. There is one other identically sleek leather chair, a three-seater couch, along with all feasible space on walls tied together with framed drawings of possible tattoos (produced with watercolor or colored pencil) made by Eric (real name Eric Flynn) and associate Dan Nelson. Eric and Dan, 28, are the two sole artists at Kadillac. Angus, 19, Eric’s son, is an apprentice and on a recent afternoon sits answering phone calls on the other side of the counter with the built-in swinging door that says: “Nobody past here that is not getting a tattoo.”
Eric, who lives in Wyndmoor with his wife (and Kadillac co-owner) Lisa, has been in the tattoo artistry business for 23 years. He owns another parlor called Kadillac Tattoo Deuce in the Lawncrest section of Northeast Philadelphia. Eric’s skin is teeming with tattoos. Sleeves on both arms, plain red t-shirt, jeans, professor-style thin-rimmed glasses and more tattoo peeking out from his crossed right leg. And there are more on both legs.
“Oh yeah sure,” he answers to if there’s even more ink in store for his body, “Until we complete the body suit.” Which will be all covered if Eric dons a suit.
Nothing on the face, however. Not for him nor for his customers. “Just won’t do it,” he said without a shred of doubt. “It’s not something that looks good, and if we don’t think it will look like a tattoo we won’t put it on your body.” Beneath the businessman speaking there exists a strong undercurrent of holding true to the ideals of a time-travelled craft. And business at his new spot is chugging along quite consistently.
“We’re past the opening phase of this place, and we’re really building a solid clientele,” Eric dished, adding that “80 to 90 percent” of sales are attributed to repeat customers or those coming in based on word-of-mouth of previous customers. The Kadillac location was previously home to an electric bike shop. The lease was brokered by Bob Elfant of Elfant Wissahickon.
A law in Pennsylvania mandates that no tattoo parlor is allowed within 500 feet of any place of worship. However, “I just went and talked to them,” Eric deadpanned about his success in striking an agreement that allowed Kadillac to move across the street from Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church. “I told them if they don’t want us here, we’ll find somewhere else. We wanted to be somewhere where we felt welcome and didn’t make anyone else feel uncomfortable.”
Perfect and his wife actually received letters of support from West Mt. Airy Neighbors and Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle of Mt. Airy Presbyterian Church. Eric even tattooed one of his pastor neighbors shortly after Kadillac Tattoos moved to Mt. Airy in early February. What was tattooed on the pastor? “Dude. Really? Like whaddya think?” Eric chuckled. “A cross.”
On the waiting room walls there are many shapes of crosses detailed by hand by Eric and Dan. There are also framed prints of skulls, with drooping blood and without, of dragons emitting snarls of fire, animals morphing into humans and vice versa.
“You steal all the time,” Eric confessed. “You see what the great ones do. You steal from them and put our own twist on it. Same with any art.” Looked at interviewer: “You’re not gonna come up with a new revolutionary way to write this article. Same idea here.”
Eric has tattooed and been tattooed all over America and in Europe, Asia and South America. “I know artists from conventions,” he said, “and they’ll work on me, and I’ll work on them.” This is respect for a craft that has been around since ships were the most efficient mode of crossing any of the seven seas. 1891 was an important year for tattoos because of electric needles. Before that wooden boxes of tattoo stencils were loaded onto ships bound for cross-continental trips. Eric owns some of these.
Eric’s been visiting the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum in Holland for “years and years,” sometimes as often as six times per year. He’s due to set up shop at the London Tattoo Convention later this year. “Something that’s radically changed since I started is women now are slightly more than half our clientele. That stigma’s totally changed. No longer just the motorcycle type who might be shunned for inking themselves.”
On cue almost, a woman walks into the shop. Mid-afternoon. Mid-50s. Beige business suit, heels, designer sunglasses and handbag. All that. Says she’s never had a tattoo. Wants one. Not today, though. She’s just checking things out.
“No pressure,” Eric retorted respectfully. “We’ll see you when you’re ready.”
She leaves out into the windy, balmy, weirdly overcast day. Eric hops back behind the counter and dives back into the in-progress sketches because true artists never cease creating.
For more information about Kadillac Tattoos, call 215-385-6654 or visit www.facebook.com/KadillacTattooMtAiry