Luvia Petersen ranks making money last on her list of reasons for owning a business.
For Petersen , co-owner of Liquid Amber Tattoo, having a place she likes to be and that’s owned and operated by women and where her employees and customers feel comfortable is more important.
Petersen, otherwise known for playing scrappy Jasmine Garza on the Vancouver-shot, TV hit Continuum, started her business 12 years ago after stumbling onto a female tattoo artist while backpacking in Paris with artist friend Justina Kervel. The pair, then in their early 20s, were so inspired by the woman they opened a tattoo studio of their own in Vancouver.
The studio gave Kervel a day job doing the art she loved and gave Petersen a way to be a part of something fun and creative.
“We aren’t going to be rich, and that’s OK. That kind of mentality, when you aren’t focused on money, then you can breathe and you can create,” Petersen said.
While Petersen and Kervel intended their business to be female owned and operated, they never imagined they would one day employ five female tattoo artists.
“Like minds attract each other and before we knew it we opened our eyes and said oh wow, we don’t have any men here anymore,” Petersen said with a shrug.
Tattoo artist Jenny Jarrett, 30, has been at Liquid Amber for eight years and said she never thinks about the fact she is a female tattoo artist in a fully female business. She just appreciates the encouraging atmosphere at work. “We’re all friends,” she said.
Customer Meana Kasi, 35, a project manager who had a tattoo of birds on a power line done on her forearm last year at the shop and is halfway through a half sleeve of a peacock, says a female-dominated business creates a nurturing environment.
She recalled seeing one of the staff get a blanket for a customer who was feeling chilled while getting inked.
“It is just a cozy, comfortable place,” Kasi said.
According to Petersen, the business cozied up with Gastown residents and neighbours as soon as it moved in five years ago.
Gastown is its third location and the one where the owners believe they fit best.
“We aren’t a big scary corporation coming in to gentrify the neighbourhood,” Petersen said. “We are just like a mom and pop type shop. Well, mom and mom I guess.”
Liquid Amber works with the residents as much as it can by offering work window cleaning and by donating to groups that help those in need in the community, such as Lookout Emergency Aid Society.
Petersen has seen Gastown evolve over the years. At first no customers would approach from the east. All traffic was people coming through Vancouver avoiding the Downtown Eastside. Now there are stores further down so they are seeing customers coming from that direction.
The Gastown community has a definite mix of Downtown Eastside residents and a newer, hipster crowd. A few metres away from the shop a man pushed a grocery cart stuffed with his worldly possessions while on the other side of the street a group of 20-somethings, all wearing trendy neck scarves, moved down the cobble stone street with paper cups of coffee in the direction of Vancouver Film School.
The grungy mixed with an artsy feel drew Petersen to the area. “It is an artist’s mecca,” she said.
The inside, main floor of the shop reflects the artistic temperament outside its doors. At just 500 square feet it’s an intimate space. The exposed brick walls and thick wooden beams are covered with drawings and colourful paintings. There are three tattoo beds, two in the window —the shades are drawn so clients aren’t on display — and one on the back wall next to the podium-style reception desk.
The basement is a cramped 495 square feet. Surrounded by cleaning and tattoo supplies, Petersen was relaxed and chatty during the Courier’s visit. Her white-blonde hair cropped short on one side, long on the other, wearing a black and white striped off-the-shoulder sweater, black leggings and canvass runners, Peterson easily fit in with the artistic Gastown crowd.
It’s also a reminder of her creative side as a professional actress on a popular Canadian TV show. She said with the up and down nature of acting, another creative outlet is invaluable. It’s like having two kids, instead of one, she said.