A Metro Vancouver tattoo artist with a dream of opening her own tattoo studio is seeing her plans quashed as a city bylaw keeps her freshly renovated shop closed.
Disa Raven found a realtor and took out a multi-year lease on a Clayton Heights storefront in August. Over the last few months, she’s spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating the space and improving the electrical and water outlets to meet Fraser Health’s standards.
But zoning rules are preventing her from welcoming clients. The City of Surrey told her she couldn’t obtain a business licence even though the building is zoned for personal care businesses. Under Comprehensive Development Zone bylaw 17377, it’s limited to barber shops, beauty parlours, and clothes cleaning.
Raven didn’t know this when she signed the lease, and apparently neither did her realtor nor the landlord.
Now, she’s faced with abandoning the shop she’s worked so hard to get ready because she can’t afford to keep paying rent while not taking clients.
“I made all the right moves and made sure that I did this properly,” Raven told Daily Hive. “I’m just coming to terms with the fact that I’m never going to make art in the one place it was my dream to make art.”
As she faces debt from the $60,000 renovations plus the cost of signing the lease, she doubts she has the emotional energy or financial resources to set up a studio at another location.
Raven’s predicament is a prime example of municipal red tape stifling innovation and entrepreneurship in Surrey, Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman told Daily Hive.
“The city of Surrey should allow her to open the business in a transitionary period at least,” Huberman said. “Until all of this is sorted out, there has to be some type of flexibility.”
Updating zoning rules for the modern economy and allowing flexibility for them is integral to allowing small businesses to survive in the city — especially after the devastating effects of the pandemic, Huberman said.
“These little wrinkles mean that businesses don’t have the opportunity to start. That means loss of jobs and loss of economic dollars being re-invested into our city.”
Raven will need to apply to the City to expand zoning rules to allow tattoo shops in the area, and the matter will have to be approved in a vote by city council. She is worried about how long the process could take, uncertain about whether council will approve it, and wary of additional cost involved. She’s paid her December rent but needs to send a decision to her landlord before January.
A spokesperson for the City’s bylaws department said staff have offered to accelerate the process so Raven’s matter can be heard by council soon, recognizing the urgency of the situation.
According to the City, staff are waiting for a response from Raven.
“I hope she follows up with our staff and then council will have an opportunity to vote on it as soon as possible,” City Councillor Laurie Guerra told Daily Hive.
Studio would highlight art side of tattooing
As a 24-year-old female artist who came up in the male-dominated industry, Raven is ready to change perceptions around tattooing — and she hopes her shop can be part of that.
For the past three years she operated a tattoo studio in Pitt Meadows with an all-female staff, and she had two artists on board to work with her at the Surrey studio. But with uncertainty around the opening, both have left to work at other shops.
Raven proud of her ability to make a tattoo shop clean, inviting, and even pretty — to help people see tattoos as pieces of art.
She drew on her love for Greek mythology while designing the Surrey store, and hired painters for the walls and ceilings so clients have something to look at while they’re sitting in the chair.
“I just wanted to be like the feeling you get when you travel. Like, holy crap I’m not even in Surrey anymore,” Raven said. “I wanted to create an art gallery … I wanted to create the utmost experience to honour the client for choosing me.”
Raven asked people who support her shop to write letters to city councillors, or email her directly at [email protected]