The holidays are upon us, and if you’re looking for a gift that will literally make a lasting impression, Scott Matalon is your guy. Scott is the owner of Stingray Body Art in Allston, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a party this Saturday. I asked Scott how he got into the tattoo and piercing business.

I hear you’re having quite the anniversary party this weekend!

Photo by Mary Lee Desmond of Red Hot Box Studios

We’re holding our 10th anniversary party at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already! The event will be an amazing art show featuring Walter Sickert, Tara Ozella and Kristilyn Zombie Romance—all local artists and musicians and friends of ours who do fantastic illustrative work that I love and admire. Of course, as an art-based business, art of all types is very important to us. We regularly hold art shows featuring works by our own tattooists that range from watercolors to spray paint to woodcuts to acrylics and oil paints, as well as art shows by artists we invite to our shop. Our next Stingray tattoo artist show will probably be in the early spring, so join our mailing list to get the invites!

I have to ask: How does a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn end up owning a tattoo and piercing parlor? 

When I was a small child living in Canarsie, Brooklyn, there was a hippy we called “Lady Bug Man.” He drew lady bugs on us with a Sharpie marker, and every time he did it my mom would scrub it off. And I’d cry and cry from the pain of the scrub brush, but the next time I’d see him at the park I’d hold out my arm for another one! 

I actually started Stingray Body Art after the Internet stock market crash of 2001. Everything I had worked for over 10 years—my Internet and e-commerce company that had been acquired by a public company—was lost overnight, despite the fact that we were a profitable company performing nearly a billion dollars a year in online transactions. So, we had to go back to work, and when my friends Brenda Wynne, Quent Stulzaft and I looked at tattooing, which we loved, we found that it was the sixth-fastest-growing industry in America, right behind bagels and cell phones. We felt we had a chance to help take an industry that was art-related and moving from the back streets to Main Street and re-engineer the customer experience, especially in areas like quality, selection, service and guarantees. I love being in the “happiness business,” and there’s nothing better than seeing the huge smiles on our customers’ faces after they have seen their dreams turned into a personal reality.

You came to Boston from Canarsie to go to Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music. Is Allston really the Brooklyn of Boston? 

Actually, after Canarsie, my father did a stint in the U.S. Air Force, and then we moved to Long Island, which is an incredibly boring place for an ambitious artist and musician. I didn’t realize how boring it was until I got to Boston and started school. We were right in the middle of the political anti-apartheid and divestment rallies. I was also busking on the streets of Harvard Square with a group of Vietnam veterans, who kind of took me under their wing and taught me so much about performing in public and at all the great small clubs that used to exist in Boston and Cambridge.

I think Allston is more of “The Village” or “Venice Beach” of Boston—it’s full of life, artists, musicians, filmmakers, scientists, entrepreneurs and much more, all mixed up and cross-pollinating their ideas and art. In recent years, parts of Brooklyn have had a real artistic resurgence due in part to the high cost of living in Manhattan, and Venice Beach has been undergoing a real pricing-out of artists as well. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen here; we need to protect communities like Allston from over-gentrification and make sure the students especially, who come here for education, are able to experience and be exposed to all this creativity just as I was.  

What’s the craziest thing someone has asked to get tattooed? 

You may be sorry you asked this question! The short answer is the scrotum; a man wanted some script writing on it, so we charged him a $350 “handling fee” on top of the tattooing fee, and our female artist was the only one willing to do the work!

People are generally very serious about their tattoos, and they all hold some special meaning, so we try not to give opinions on what people want; we only make suggestions as to how best to accomplish their artistic goals. We do place restrictions on things like hate tattoos, such as swastikas and gang symbols, which we won’t do at all, but otherwise we try to make folks happy and help them make good choices. Of course, we don’t tattoo drunk people, so a lot of the craziest stuff doesn’t get done. As I said, we’re in the happiness business, and happiness is a great business to be in.

Four questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!