Dale Williamson has come full circle. Just down the street from his childhood home, and on the square where he spent hours biking as a teen, he’ll open his first business.
It wasn’t easy for the 40-year-old Williamson to get here. About eight months have passed since he voiced his opposition during a Board of Aldermen meeting to strict tattooing codes in Harrisonville, which essentially barred anyone but licensed physicians from opening a parlor.
The board heeded his request. Last week, it granted Williamson a special-use permit to open on the square. Mayor Brian Hasek, whom Williamson gave credit to for supporting him, extended an encouraging welcome after the permit passed.
Williamson will be at 110 S. Independence St. Two neon “tattoo” signs already glowing in the windows are hard to miss.
He hopes to officially open by the end of the month. His final hurdle is a business license application. That’s a relative formality compared with the months he spent waiting as the city performed its due diligence, ratifying his request to ease code requirements for parlors, then granting his special-use permit to open on the square.
“There might have been a tear almost fall,” Williamson said Monday, from the front desk at the parlor.
This was a sensitive admission for a man who said he hates crying. A sensitive admission for a man whose outward appearance — a skull and crossbones is inked above his right ear; ten gray-blue dots mark the place where his eyebrows once were — seems to belie any hint of tenderness.
He painted the back wall a deep crimson in his new parlor, matching the waiting-area sectional and the hanging wooden frames that contain personal and purchased art. His consists of watercolors and oil works, most depicting skulls in varying states of pose, dress and/or decay.
Near the entrance, a life-sized skeleton named Norman will greet customers. But so will Williamson’s 16-year-old daughter, this summer when she’s out of school. His goal is to help her earn some cash for college.
Already, folks are starting to take notice of Williamson’s parlor. Joni Mabary of Joni Fashions stopped by Monday to remind him that they could share her dumpster out back. Williamson respectfully declined, but Mabary’s wide, welcoming smile remained.
“I’m so glad I’m going to have a neighbor,” she said, beaming.
When Williamson takes smoke breaks out front, folks often wave from their cars or honk their horns to greet the newcomer.
“Everybody is asking, ‘When are you open, when are you open?’ ” Williamson said.
Hasek said the tattoo parlor will bring more foot traffic to the square, potentially drawing additional businesses to the area.
Hasek also commended Williamson for speaking up at the Board of Aldermen meeting to advocate for less strict tattoo parlor codes.
“Williamson showed courage getting up and fighting for what he wanted,” Hasek said. “My only regret was we did not get this done faster, but I am very pleased to see him open his doors.”
Autumn Martin of Independence said she’ll be making the trip to Harrisonville to continue sitting in Williamson’s chair. She’s one of his regular clients at the Blue Springs parlor where Williamson has worked for years, and she was won over by the artist when he transformed a trio of poorly done sparrows on her left arm into a sleeve of ribbons, roses, a skull and other images.
“He does really good, quality work,” Martin said, adding that some tattoo artists she’s hired in the past try to dissuade her from certain tattoos. “Dale doesn’t do that.”
Another client, Aaron Stobaugh, said Williamson is “the type of guy you want to go have a beer with and hang out.”
Williamson, who once struggled with substance addiction but found inspiration for sobriety through his family, named his parlor Minus 1.
He’s alluded to poor decisions made in his past, but the parlor is like “minus one bad decision,” the name a nod to a sort of erasure of a checkered history. Salvation through entrepreneurialism.
“This whole venture of me trying to be a business owner and provide for my family is kind of a turning point in my life,” he said.
In addition to the many images of skulls hanging from the parlor’s walls, his clients may spot “The Last Supper,” an homage to his faith in a space where horned skulls give a different impression. But “The Last Supper” lends credence to an important aphorism: Don’t judge a book by its cover. People are complex, and the least we can do is reserve judgment until after a person’s character is known.
Williamson likens tattoos to stained glass windows, evoking colorful light inside churches.
“The Bible says our bodies are our temples,” Williamson said, “so tattoos would be our stained glass.”
And he expressed gratitude for the trust clients place in him when beneath the buzz of his inking tool.
There’s a degree of uncertainty, though, in owning a business for the first time. But also, there’s excitement.
“I know I can do it,” Williamson said. “I can’t wait to get in there and turn the key and flip that open sign on, and know this is mine; this is the future for my kids.”