Paradise Tattoo plans to open new location, uncertain about returning to Fort Myers Beach – – Gulfshore Business | NutSocia

Tattoo artist and Fort Myers native Dawn Webb began her training in North Fort Myers at Custom Bike and Body Art in 2007. After the owners of the half-motorcycle, half-tattoo shop moved to Fort Myers Beach in 2011, they told Webb she had make the choice.

Webb quit the Radiology Regional Center in March 2012 after working there for more than a decade to take over the tattoo shop by June 2012.

“Back then, no one knew who I was,” Webb said. “I was there in a little corner. We didn’t have any signage so I just put a surfboard on the roof of my car and parked it next to the road that said “Paradise Tattoo”. This little surfboard helped me build my client base.”

Paradise Tattoo was an award winning tattoo shop in Fort Myers Beach. Years of work at the company was washed away on September 28 when Hurricane Ian devastated Fort Myers Beach and destroyed the building.

“I wasn’t ready yet,” Webb said. “I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t want to see it yet. As far as I know, the beach was just completely destroyed. I wasn’t mentally prepared to see my store disappear.”

During her early years in Fort Myers Beach, Webb worked alone and devoted herself to marketing her name and shop. After four years, she started hiring other artists and only last year formed her dream crew with three other artists.

Over the years, Webb began to see her clientele grow from local regulars to national and global clients, booking appointments a year in advance.

“Every time they come to Fort Myers Beach on vacation, they don’t get a tattoo anywhere else,” Webb said. “It’s a family feeling when you walk in, you feel like you’re at home or like you’re in my house instead of walking into a cold, sterile store.”

She and her crew have won awards, with Webb also tattooing celebrities such as Lajon Witherspoon, lead singer of rock band Sevendust, and MTV personality Riki Rachtman.

“I’ve just worked hard over the years to give everyone a very welcoming experience,” Webb said. “I never thought of myself as the best tattoo artist, but people loved the vibe, the energy. Over the years I have put my heart, soul and love into this place.”

On the fourth day after Hurricane Ian, before entry to the barrier island was denied, Webb, among others, parked their cars at the foot of the north end of the bridge and walked to their shops.

For Webb, the one mile hike from the bridge to her shop confirmed her fears.

“I knew it was going to be bad as soon as I turned the corner,” Webb said. “It just looked like a war zone.”

The front glass of the store was blasted along with the concrete back wall of their store.

“I had a partition in between and it just got wiped out,” Webb said. “It was just rubble and rubble inside, completely unrecognizable.”

While the store and its items such as furniture, salon chairs, massage tables, and toolboxes were destroyed, the artwork and tattoo guns on display were safe as Webb removed them before the storm.

“I didn’t think the storm would do that,” Webb said. “None of us did it. I was born here and grew up. I’ve seen so many storms. During the storm surge, I was just imagining water rising in my shop. I wasn’t expecting it to be blown up, but something told me to get the art out of there.”

Despite the destruction of her store, the relationships Webb had built with her customers proved to hold up. An annual rock ‘n’ roll-based cruise called ShipRocked, which Webb frequents and donates artwork to auctions to raise money for cancer, started a GoFundMe for Paradise Tattoo, which is now less than $300 off its goal of $10,000 US dollars away.

The funds raised and already saved will help fund the reopening of a new store. As for reopening in Fort Myers Beach, only time will tell for Webb.

“I’d love to reopen on the beach one day, but of course that’s going to take a long time,” she said. The Plaza owner of Webb’s store is planning to rebuild, but her livelihood depends on her store as she is currently living on savings.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Webb said. “But I can’t wait.”

Webb is looking for a location at McGregor Boulevard and Gladiolus Drive in Fort Myers and hopes to reopen within the next two months. Her team has taken up work at local shops that have invited her and her artists in until they get back on their feet.

“I’ve had a lot of shopkeepers who have offered to tattoo me,” Webb said. “I wasn’t creative yet in the right mental state to tattoo. I have some art projects to work on, I just haven’t been there. But I’ll get there.”

Many suffer from mental health issues in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which ultimately impacts the creative process of artists like Webb.

“It was a struggle,” she said. “Some people take that and get super creative. I sort of broke down and focused more on business than I needed to make my business work. It’s very traumatic, it’s upsetting, depressing, angry, there’s just so much emotion.”

Before the storm, Webb said her creative mode was on almost all of the time.

“I’ve always thought about tattoos and people talk to me about tattoos,” she said. “I’ve been into the creative a lot, which was difficult as a business owner because I felt more like a tattoo artist than a businessman. Now I’m more driven to establish myself. I just want my little nest back so I can go in, get comfortable, and start creating again.”

As Webb begins to feel inspired again, she awaits the reopening of Paradise Tattoo. It will house the surfboard found under the rubble that survived Ian and will act as a symbol of new beginnings, as it did a decade ago.

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