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Morton Village Board doesn’t want a downtown tattoo parlor

Steve Stein
Journal Star
The vacant lower level of this building at 142 S. Main St. in Morton was the proposed location for American Traditional Tattoo.

MORTON – Jason and Amanda Parker wanted to open a tattoo parlor in their hometown.

The Morton residents picked what they thought was the perfect spot, an empty lower-level space downtown at 142 S. Main St. that once was the home of Miller Bakery, an iconic village business.

They picked the name American Traditional Tattoo for their parlor. American traditional is a style of tattoo.

"We felt the name represented our business and Morton well," Amanda Parker said.

Because a change in the village's zoning ordinance was needed for the Parkers to move into the downtown space, they spoke at a Village Board meeting before distributing information about their business plans and contacted each trustee individually.

They later got the blessing of the Plan Commission in the form of a unanimous vote – following a brief discussion – to recommend that a tattoo parlor be allowed in the village's B-2 business district.

The Parkers already had the support of Anita Roth, owner of the South Main Street building. Roth previously rented the lower level to Morton Pottery for 17 years, Lulu's on Main for six years and, most recently, to Crowne Realty for two years.

But the Village Board voted 4-2 on Nov. 2 against changing the zoning ordinance. Trustees Clinton Leman and Nate Parrott cast the lone yes votes.

Trustee Rod Blunier noted that a tattoo parlor is allowed in the village's B-3 business district – a shopping center, for example – so the Parkers had other options.

Trustee Steve Leitch said he had concerns about allowing tattoo parlors in the village's B-2 business district, but he did not speak negatively about the Parkers' proposal.

Brad Menold and Ken Newman were the other trustees who voted against the zoning ordinance change. They did not state their reasons at the Village Board meeting, nor have they responded to a request for comment on the issue.

Amanda Parker said Leman and Parrott were the lone trustees who reached out to her husband and herself with questions and concerns about their proposed tattoo parlor before the vote was taken.

"The board's decision made us sad, and the way the majority went about it was hurtful," Amanda Parker said. "We feel we went above and beyond with sharing and offering to answer questions.

"There are long-term effects of dissuading small businesses or making it next to impossible for some prospective small businesses from doing business in our community. This decision not only impacts us, it impacts the long-term sustainability and economic vitality of our community."

Jason Parker has been a tattoo artist for 14 years. He's worked at Freedom Ink Tattoos in Peoria for four years.

Many of his clients come from out of town, some from out of state. Amanda Parker helps those clients find a place to stay and eat while they're in the area, generating revenue for other businesses.

The Parkers say they're not giving up on Morton. They're investigating other options for their tattoo parlor in the village and reaching out once again to the trustees who voted against the zoning change.

"We don't give up easily," Amanda Parker said. "Cliche as it may be, we believe anything worth having doesn't come easily. We're hoping the board will open up to the idea (of a tattoo parlor) and we can clear up whatever is holding them back. However, if it's just a matter of opinion, that may be a little harder to change."

Leman was visibly angry and frustrated after the zoning ordinance change vote, saying it could dissuade other businesses from locating in Morton and criticizing other trustees for not doing their homework on the Parkers' plans.

"I apologize to the Parkers," Leman said. "They have been open and transparent. I had some worries about what they were planning, but they answered all my questions and made me comfortable. It was going to be a classy business."

Leman has since apologized to other trustees, Mayor Jeff Kaufman and "anyone else I may have offended by my comments and tone at the meeting."

Kaufman cut off Leman as Leman was directing comments at Leitch about not being business-friendly, saying that should be done privately.

"Being a born-again Christian, I'm called to always show love, and my comments should have been said with kindness," Leman said.

"I'm extremely passionate about the success of businesses in our community and want to create an environment where businesses grow, and new businesses and entrepreneurs, like Jason and Amanda Parker, are attracted to Morton.

"The Parkers were willing to take on the financial risks and unknowns of starting a business in our village during a global pandemic, which is admirable and extremely brave."

Amanda Parker said she and her husband aren't about to let the pandemic dash their dreams.

"We all have concerns about the pandemic," she said. "However, with appropriate precautions, we feel we can serve our customers safely and responsibly. Now is not the time to let fear drive our decisions. I'd recommend the same to the Village Board."

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.

Amanda and Jason Parker hoped to open American Traditional Tattoo in Morton. Jason Parker has been a tattoo artist for 14 years.