Delray Beach’s first tattoo shop celebrates a one-year anniversary

Rebecca Loveless isn’t sure how many tattoos she has, but she guesses about 60. She calls the areas of her skin without them “spots.”

“I’m filling the spots,” she says. “It’s not so much as, ‘I want a tattoo on my chest.’ It’s, ‘I need a tattoo on my chest because there’s a giant spot there.’ ”

She gets tattooed regularly at Tradition Tattoo, her Delray Beach parlor—the first in the city—that turns 1 this month. Before it moved into its new home (165 Avenue L), it was based in Boca Raton—making the business 5 years old.

Rebecca 2“Hey, Sam … do you think we’ll still get ‘5’ tattoos?” Loveless asks one of her artists as he walks by on a recent afternoon.

“Yeah,” he says with a shrug, not missing a beat.

Getting new ink is a casual affair at Tradition, but opening the shop was anything but. When she heard there were no tattoo shops in Delray Beach, where she’s been living for six years, it became her mission to add one.

“I thought, well, I can be first,” says Loveless, who specializes in custom, American-traditional designs. “I’ve always enjoyed the idea of making history and putting my stamp on something.”

She applied two years ago but was rejected. The University of Florida visual arts alumna prodded—where was proof that she couldn’t open a tattoo shop?

“I’m the type of person who loves a ‘no,’ ” the 34-year-old says, laughing. “Like, tell me ‘no.’ Go ahead. I love the challenge of it.”

Rebecca 1Nowhere in the city regulations did it say she couldn’t—but it didn’t say she could, either. She took advantage of that limbo and, per the city’s suggestion, hired a lawyer. With his help, she argued that permanent makeup, a cosmetic technique that uses tattoos, had been going on in Delray Beach for years.

It worked. Last June, Tradition changed its ZIP code. Business grew about 30 percent, Loveless says, and she hired another artist to join the small, close-knit staff. After the battle with the city, it began acknowledging her as an artist, even enlisting her to paint the Delray Affairs and Garlic Fest posters.

“When I’m an old lady, I can still be the first tattoo artist in this town,” she says. “Makes you proud.”

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Rebecca Loveless laughs looking back: She never thought she’d be in the tattoo business. “I’m from Boca,” she insists, flipping her hair.

She graduated from UF in 2004 as visual arts major—with just one small tattoo she got when she was 18—and landed what she thought was her dream job at a New York City gallery. “I absolutely hated it,” she says.

One day she got a tattoo—a little blue square with pink flowers on her wrist—from a famous tattoo artist who specializes in miniatures. He was spiritual, and from the way Loveless prepared for the tattoo and carried herself, he saw something in her.

Then began years of apprenticing at a shop in Queens, working as a shop hand in the Lower East Side and waitressing to compensate for the salary lost from quitting the gallery. She became a collector of tattoos, walking art that showed off her colleagues’ skills.

“It’s just part of the industry—you want to support the people you’re with,” she says. “Very rarely do [my tattoos] have meaning. I know that sounds odd, but truly I get stuff that just makes me happy.”

Her mom, whom Loveless says she’s close with, didn’t come around as quickly to her new image. That became clear six years ago, when she moved to Delray Beach to escape the chaos of the city.

“I remember when I moved down here, we were at Starbucks just drinking coffee,” Loveless says. “To me it wasn’t anything, but I remember her being a little horrified at sitting with someone who was heavily tattooed.”

“‘Don’t you think people are staring at you?’” she recalls her mother whispering.

Loveless says she shrugged it off. “Yeah, probably—I’m heavily tattooed. It feels weird now, but the more time we spend together, the less you’ll think about it.”

She was right. Now, her mom is a regular at Tradition—just not as a customer. “She says, ‘You have enough [tattoos] for everyone,’” Loveless quips.

Her husband doesn’t didn’t think so. When they met, he had a single tattoo. Now, he’s a collector, as well. “He’s a businessman, so he’ll never go full throttle with it,” she says. “He got a lot of tattoos when we were dating. If he wanted to see me, he basically had to come hang out in the shop.”