As the neighborhood around Capitol Tattoo Ink on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring has changed, the business remains a mainstay for its loyal customers
By Samantha Blee
When it comes to tattooing, Al Herman knows the ins and outs of the industry. What started as a cleaning job has now grown into a 32-year career, taking the veteran artist to various cities along the East Coast, including Clearwater, Fla., and Laurel, Md. Now, Herman is located on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Md., where he owns his established tattoo parlor, Capitol Tattoo Ink.
Capitol Tattoo Ink first opened its doors on Georgia Avenue in 1992, when Herman decided to move the store from its birthplace in Laurel. Though his piece of Georgia Avenue wasn’t exactly the best area at the time of his move, Herman believes that the section of Silver Spring has changed since his arrival.
“Years ago, this was a pretty rough neighborhood. Especially in the evening,” he says. “But it’s cleaned up around here. I actually enjoy these customers better than any place I’ve ever been.”
The atmosphere inside Capitol Tattoo Ink reflects its owner’s welcoming attitude. The store has developed into a go-to place for Silver Spring community members, who often stop by even if they have no intention of going under the needle.
“A lot of times we also have customers who don’t come back and get tattoos,” says Marco Wright, one of Capitol Tattoo Ink’s artists. “A lot of people just come by and say, ’Hey, here’s the work that you did and it’s like five years later.’ So we have customers like that too.”
Capitol Tattoo Ink’s artists draw a wide variety of customers, ranging from those referred by friends in California, to those from down the street at Walter Reed Hospital. Though the parlor doesn’t have the same clientele as all other local businesses, it is still a respected member of the business community.
“I’ve actually gone in there before,” says Shadae Jones of Vivanti Hair Studio, which is located nearby on Georgia Avenue. “I don’t have any tattoos myself, but they’re very nice.”
Another driving force in Capitol’s Tattoo Ink’s clientele comes in the form of family members. Since the store established itself almost a decade ago, multiple generations now frequent the parlor.
“I’ve noticed that we have kids who are 20 and 18 that Al (Herman) worked on years ago, their parents are bringing them here,” says Thomas Schwartzman, another member of the Capitol team. “We have a family aspect since he’s been here as long as he has.”
The staff and artists at Capitol Tattoo Ink tend to build strong relationships with their customers. The store’s website even features a slideshow of some of the artists posing with their satisfied clients. Often, customers request specific artists, who develop their own regulars.
“My first customer, who still comes in to this day, Mama Bear, wanted me to tattoo her before I was allowed to tattoo,” says Wright. “And still to this day, five, six years later, she still comes back for more work.”
Herman makes sure that all of his staff are personable when it comes to dealing with customers. He not only reviews their portfolios of previous art, but also makes prospective staff work through a trial period.
“They’ve got to be personable,” he says. “Even if their artwork’s good. If they’re not good with customers, I don’t want them here. I don’t want anybody who can’t get along with anybody else.”
Though Herman used to run up to five tattoo artists at a time, the economy has taken its toll on his business. When the staff would arrive at noon on a work day, he says, there would already be a line awaiting their arrival.
“And there’d be 20 people waiting in line at all times,” says artist Brian Herman, better known as “Doc.” Now, even on Friday nights, the store doesn’t attract nearly as many customers as it used to serve. “We’re a luxury, not a necessity,” he says.
But the art of tattooing isn’t something that will disappear completely with the economy. There are always those waiting their turn to get a bit of ink.
“We had kids who walked by this shop years ago that were nowhere near old enough,” says Herman. “I’ll let them look around. I won’t throw them out because they are our future customers.”