Surrey tattoo studio wins zoning bylaw change to finally open

Mar 1 2022, 10:14 pm

A Surrey tattoo studio stuck in limbo will finally be able to open after City Council approved a zoning bylaw change this month.

Owner Disa Raven took out a lease on the Clayton Heights storefront in August, but after spending tens of thousands of dollars on renovations, she learned she couldn’t open because the zoning bylaw limited personal care businesses in the space to beauty parlours, barbershops, and clothes cleaning.

Stuck paying her $5,600 monthly rent but unable to take clients, Raven thought she might have to give up her dream of opening her own studio.

But she persevered and applied for a zoning amendment, and on February 14, it was approved after a public hearing.

“We don’t need to be scared of certain businesses anymore,” Raven told Daily Hive Urbanized. “Tattooing isn’t this terrifying thing. It’s just like any other service industry.”

According to Raven, the city received approximately 250 emails in support of her business — so much that one City staff person apparently asked her to stop calling on followers to write letters because the staff were getting overwhelmed.

A tattoo client of Raven’s also showed up to the meeting to speak about the positives her shop will bring to the community and assuaged some concerns about the shop being near a high school (there’s already a liquor store next door, Raven pointed out).

“It was definitely a really meaningful moment for me,” Raven said of the support. “It made me feel very proud of myself that I have that big of a reach in my community.”

Studio interior

The interior of Disa Raven’s tattoo studio in Surrey. (Submitted)

Only three members of the public wrote in with concerns about parking in the area and the studio’s hours of operation. City staff noted tattoo appointments are long in nature and booked far in advance — and the studio could only serve up to five customers at a time.

“While our zoning bylaw is in place to help regulate uses to established zones, the City is always willing to review opportunities for changes that help support small business, just as the City did for this small business,” City of Surrey’s planning department told Daily Hive Urbanized.

Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said red tape and excessive regulations are one of the top three costs to businesses in the city — and congratulated Raven on seeing through the process to open her studio.

“[We’re] pleased to have played a role in advocating and connecting with City staff to make the dreams of this business owner come true,” Huberman told Daily Hive Urbanized.

Small businesses have few protections in commercial leases

When Raven signed the lease for her space, she didn’t know tattoo studios weren’t allowed under the personal care bylaw. Neither did her landlord, and neither did her realtor.

But when she found out she wouldn’t be able to open, the landlord wouldn’t let her break the lease, apparently saying she was on the hook for the whole five years she’d signed up for.

Raven sub-leased the space from Donna Hutchinson and Shelley Bohnke, a married couple who operated Smiling Hearts Yoga and Fitness for about a year before they were forced to abandon their dream due to COVID-19-related closures.

“We had our first year, and then COVID hit. We never really got our membership up to where we needed even though the members that we had, you know, stayed loyal,” Hutchison said.

With seven years left on the lease, they told Daily Hive Urbanized the landlord wouldn’t let them leave early. The only way out was to find a sub-tenant. They eventually found Raven, who indemnified the lease — meaning she’d be on the hook personally if her business didn’t pay rent.

Hutchison and Bohnke are calling for better protections for small businesses who sign commercial leases, saying landlords hold the power in the interactions, and many are not willing to compromise, even in extenuating circumstances such as the pandemic.

“The small guys, when they struggle, lives can be ruined,” Hutchison said.

Raven said the landlord offered to defer two months’ rent until the end of her lease if she agreed to pay an extra $1,000 per month for the remainder of the year. Raven declined, and paid the regular amount while going through the bylaw change process.

The Calling of Raven and Wolves expected to open this spring

The Calling tattoo shop

The studio will occupy a space at 18810 72 Avenue in Surrey. (Google Maps Streetview)

Now that zoning bylaws allow her shop to operate, Raven just needs her business licence and appropriate approvals from Fraser Health. She anticipates opening in April and advises prospective clients to email her at [email protected].

The shop will be called The Calling of Raven and Wolves because it represents her calling to her art. The animals represent the constant hunger, drive and determination to do whatever it takes to pursue what feeds you.

The 24-year-old artist came up in the male-dominated industry and is ready to change perceptions around tattooing, saying she wants to highlight the artistic side of the profession.

“I wanted to create an art gallery,” she said of her shop. “I wanted to create the utmost experience to honour the client for choosing me.”

Raven is looking to hire an apprentice to join her once the shop opens. Those interested can email her at [email protected].

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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