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Permanent Ink

Tattoo artist finally opens shop after zoning struggle.

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After a year-long battle to open his shop in the Broad Avenue Arts District, tattoo artist Babak Tabatabai can finally get back to doing what he does best.

Tabatabai held a grand opening party for Ronin Design & Manufacturing (2615 Broad) last weekend. The tattoo shop doubles as an art gallery that will sell paintings and sculptures. It also serves as Tabatabai's art studio for graphic and furniture design.

"It feels kind of surreal," Tabatabai said. "It's taken so long, but it feels good to see the 'open' sign in the window."

In October 2012, Tabatabai was awarded the city's first-ever conditional use permit by the Board of Adjustment. It was the end result of a long battle with the Historic Broad Business Association, which fought against having a tattoo shop in the Broad Avenue Arts District.

Tabatabai signed a lease in November 2011 to open his shop next door to Three Angels Diner. After signing a lease and investing more than $30,000 to rehab the space, he was informed that the district was not zoned to allow tattoo shops. He applied for a zoning variance, but his request was rejected.

Months went by as Tabatabai's shop sat dormant. Unable to generate income, Tabatabai's house was foreclosed on, his car was repossessed, and he became delinquent on child support payments.

Now able to resume tattooing, Tabatabai said he's thankful that he can make ends meet and get back to his craft.

"I've dedicated everything to the shop, and it'll definitely pay off," Tabatabai said. "Hopefully, everything will start falling into place over the next few months. It's just not going to be a matter of making the investment back itself; it's about making a living. It's not going to happen overnight."

The studio's operating hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays, noon to 8 p.m. Tabatabai is the only tattoo artist on staff, but he said he's looking for at least two more artists to come in and assist him.

Tabatabai has tattooed the likes of NBA players Rudy Gay and Mike Miller and former Memphis police director Larry Godwin. For the month of December, any customer at Ronin Design & Manufacturing can receive one of Tabatabai's tattoos at a discount hourly rate of $80. From January to March, the shop's hourly rate will be $100. After that, the price will increase.

Patrons will also be able to purchase 3D-formatted sculptures, taxidermy mounts, custom furniture fabrication, and medieval weaponry. He'll offer logo, branding, and general graphic design services as well. However, Tabatabai said his primary focus for the first few months is reestablishing his tattoo clientele.

"Right now, I'm mostly going to concentrate on getting the tattoo business going and getting all of my clients back in line," he said.

All services are available by appointment only, which must be made at least 48 hours in advance. Appointments can be scheduled at the shop or online at roninmemphis.com.

Tabatabai said it feels great to finally be able to contribute his presence in the Broad Avenue Arts District.

"I just want people to come and check it out," Tabatabai said. "They'll even be able to check out some other businesses on Broad. There are some really cool places [in the arts district]."

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