Graceland Tattoo, located off of Route 9 in Wappingers Falls, NY, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “It’s pretty wild. It’s quite an accomplishment, and I think in some ways it ages me,” laughs Adam Lauricella, proprietor.
Adam has had years of experience in the profession. His interest in tattooing started all the way back in his teenage years. “That was pre-Internet where you had to see them out in the wild,” he jokes. While he was fascinated with the artform, he was afraid the profession wouldn’t be a viable career.
“I went to college, and after graduating I was getting tattooed more and more. Then it just started to seem like a real tangible thing,” Adam says.
And so it began
From there, he got an apprenticeship at a tattoo shop and worked to hone and refine his craft. After his time in this shop, he was looking to move on, but had trouble finding any tattoo parlors in the area that were actively hiring, so he decided to just open his own shop instead. “I wanted to open a small shop and be in my comfort zone in the area that I wanted to continue living in,” he explains.
Graceland has seen a variety of locations over the 20 years that it’s been open, but Adam says that the current location on West Main St. in Wappingers Falls will be the forever address.
“When we came back from the pandemic, it was important for us to have a property that was our own,” Adam says. “We’ve been working 17 or 18 years to get to this point. When I look back on all our hurdles and accomplishments, I’m really grateful.”
Starting with 400 square feet
Graceland’s first location was only about 400 square feet. Adam ended up remodeling it multiple times before he got it to look the way he wanted. “I just made the little shop that I wanted and that had my aesthetic at the time so I could do what I had to do,” he shares.
Adam says that being able to rent a space was one of the first hurdles he encountered 20 years ago when first trying to open Graceland. He believes that tattooing had a certain stigma in the early 2000s that contributed to the hesitancy that many landlords had when renting out their space. Times have certainly changed.
“At that time, tattooing wasn’t quite as prevalent as it is now,” he says. In the early days, it was just Adam and a piercer in the shop. Now, Graceland has expanded to include two additional tattoo artists, Cookie and Dana Hex, and piercer, Allison Lahikainen.
Naturally, Adam holds his staff in the highest regard: “I work alongside some very dedicated and highly experienced people, who have decades of knowledge working in the craft of tattooing and body piercing. Our front-end support staff care about the clients and work really hard to juggle schedules for the tattooers, piercers, and the folks coming to get work done. So much of Graceland is a group effort.”
Above all else, however, Graceland Tattoo’s highest priority is running a safe and sanitary studio. The work stations are made of stainless steel, all clients receive single-service use products (needles, ink, etc.), and any non-disposable items are sterilized via an autoclave prior to each use. An autoclave uses steam under pressure to kill bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc. Per its website, the autoclave at Graceland is spore tested weekly to ensure “hospital-grade sterilization.”
As far as piercings go, Graceland uses 316 LVM, implant grade, surgical stainless steel in addition to titanium and solid gold. Its website states, “We are always prepared to place special orders and work closely with companies who can supply previous and semi-precious stones in addition to synthetic gemstones.”
The look and feel
Adam says that one of the things that sets Graceland apart from other tattoo shops is the space itself. He also notes that they’ve worked in a lot of different decor elements (that aren’t necessarily tattoo-related) within the space. The inside of Graceland Tattoo is adorned with mystical, magical elements, and in many ways, Adam says it resembles a space that is “half tattoo-parlor, half magic shop.”
Additionally, one of the most important things for him is ensuring that clients are comfortable and feel welcome in the shop.
“I do my best not to make the tattoo about me, and I think all of our tattooers do too,” he says. “What I mean by that is that we give guidance, and we respect what needs to be done, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re getting a tattoo and you should be getting what you want, not what I think you should have.”
He asserts that Graceland is not trying to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather to offer quality service that allows its staff to be there for their clients and answer any questions or concerns they may have throughout the process. “The tattoo process is not just about the end result. The experience is just as important, if not more.”
Over the past 20 years, Adam has certainly seen tattoo trends come and go. At the very beginning of his career, it seemed that people were sticking more to traditional designs. Next, he noticed a new trend of cartoony, exaggerated tattoos that swept the proverbial tattoo nation. Even tattoo placement goes through phases. Adam says that spots like the lower back used to be incredibly popular and now, he and his fellow artists at Graceland rarely get requests for tattoos in this spot anymore.
Tattoos became increasingly mainstream in the early 2000s due to reality TV shows like Miami Ink and Ink Master, which brought tattoo culture into people’s living rooms. Tattoo company Inkbox states that the stigma against tattoos decreased during this time: “For the most part, employers no longer look at tattoos as a reason not to hire someone, so people from all walks of life are getting tatted, like preschool teachers, therapists, and soccer moms who would have gotten inked in decades past,” Inkbox says.
By the early 2010s, tattoos were increasingly visible on arms, necks, fingers, and wrists. A Pew Research poll conducted in 2010 found that nearly 40% of millennials had at least one tattoo.
Adam also attributes the increasing popularity of tattoos in part to the Internet, “They’ve just become a lot more fashionable. I definitely see more small-scale tattoos. More people are getting tattooed overall, and people are finding it more acceptable, so that’s a good thing.”
Now, Pew Research says that adults under 50 are especially likely to have a tattoo, as 46% of those aged 30 to 49 and 41% of those under 30 have at least one.
Minimalist and micro tattoos are all the rage
Currently, minimalism, fine line, and black and gray are big trends in tattooing, with thick bulky lines and color taking a back seat. Adam notes that some tattoo trends, such as micro tattoos – tiny, fine-line tattoos that are less than an inch in size and can be as small as a quarter of an inch, typically done with a single needle – are becoming more and more popular in recent years.
“Some micro tattoo requests are unrealistic. Few tattooers can execute a micro tattoo appropriately,” he says. “That’s one place where you walk the line of realizing that you can’t give people what they want all the time. You still have to work in the confines of tattooing.”
Adam’s preferred style of tattooing is traditional American, which is typically characterized by black outlines, vivid colors, and minimal shading. Traditional American tattoo style became popular during the 1930s in New York and Detroit. It typically includes motifs such as women, daggers, roses, ships, and skulls.
Adam also enjoys working in black and gray, strong shading, and fine, delicate line work, effectively making his range of tattooing styles very wide. But at the end of the day, Adam says that his personal style preference doesn’t impact his tattooing at all. “I like my tattoos to look and feel like a tattoo. I want my tattoo to look like whatever you want, and I will always do it to the best of my ability.”
When I asked Adam if he had a favorite memory from his 20 years in business, he quickly replied that he has “tons.”
“My oldest daughter took her first steps in the shop. I’ve met people who are really important in my life here. To be able to reach these milestones and be with people who are making incredible art in this shop, those are all really important things,” he says.
Operating Graceland successfully hasn’t come without significant challenges. Adam notes that over the 20 years they’ve been open, they’ve endured multiple location changes; the pandemic, which entailed shutdowns, safety concerns, and a whole host of other challenges and complications; and fires that occurred in the business district in the Village of Wappingers Falls, which left many empty spaces around them.
But their hard work has more than paid off. Graceland Tattoo has been the recipient of the Best of the Hudson Valley award for eight years in the Piercing Studio and Tattoo Studio categories and has won the Chronogrammy award for the Tattoo Parlor category four times.
“It’s been really hard, and it always continues to be challenging for a new reason, but I’m really grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to operate for 20 years, and I look forward to many more.” •
To learn more about Graceland Tattoo, you can call them at (845) 297-3001 or visit them in person at 2722 West Main Street, Wappingers Falls, NY, or online at gracelandtattoo.com.