'A Haven For Tattoo Artists': Meet The New Owners Of Castro Tattoo

For the past 17 years, Castro Tattoo has been nestled between Orphan Andy’s and Twin Peaks Tavern. And as of January 1st, Haley Adams and Chris Sentell are the tattoo parlor’s newest owners.

Owning a tattoo shop with seven employees is nothing new for 27-year-old Adams. She owned her first shop when she was 19 and living in North Carolina.

“I've wanted to be a tattoo artist since I was seven years old,” she said. When she was 14, she began hounding tattoo artists to give her an apprenticeship. On the day she turned 15, she got what she asked for.

“I got my apprenticeship and the next year," said Adams. "I was a licensed stenciler."

For the past decade, she said, she’s been telling her friends that she was going to one day own a shop in San Francisco. After working as a tattoo artist at Castro Tattoo for the past two and a half years, the Oakland resident got her chance to do just that.

“[The previous owner] asked me if I wanted to buy the shop, and I said ‘of course,’" she told us. 

She spent the next nine months saving money and securing funds.

“I was working six to seven days a week as I was going to school,” said Adams, who is studying animation at City College. “Chris was able to come in and help with the money.”

Sentell spent the last 10 years working with the Coast Guard’s helicopter search and rescue. Like Adams, he’s balancing the venture with being in school full-time: he studies industrial design at the College of San Mateo.

Even though he’s not a tattoo artist, Sentell is passionate about the craft. “Tattoos are probably the medium of our generation,” he said. “A lot of different artists are getting involved, which really gives it more depth.”

Adams agreed. “It's a pretty amazing time for tattooing right now,” she said. “Before, it wasn't as accepted and it was really pushed away, but now people get excited about tattooing, and everyone and their mom has one. Hopefully, that keeps growing.”

Interested in getting a tattoo? Adams recommends finding an artist that matches the style you want.

According to Adams, her favorite thing about Castro Tattoo is how the shop treats its artists.

Most tattoo shop owners typically take 40 to 50 percent of artists’ monthly earnings. “It feels like you’re working really hard for half of your money,” said Adams.

Castro Tattoo, however, is one of only two San Francisco tattoo shops that charges artists a booth rental fee instead of a percentage split. Adams says it’s possible to make the set monthly rate in a week or less.

“Artists can make all the money they want,” she said. “It's kind of a haven for tattoo artists. That's why I liked it here to begin with—I felt like I wasn’t getting fucked.”

Even though the potential of a rent increase is in the back of their minds, the new owners are excited about their place in the Castro community.

“As soon as I come up those Muni stairs into the Castro from Oakland, everyone is so fucking happy,” said Adams. "People are holding hands and making out and walking around naked. I love this neighborhood and the freedom here.”

The shop's artists reflect its community. “We have lesbian, gay, and bisexual artists, and it's also mostly women, which is rare for tattoo shops," Adams said. "We're happy to represent all of that.”

“We're happy to be a part of the neighborhood,” added Sentell. “There aren't many tattoo shops in the Castro, and we're proud to be here.”

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