The owner of a head shop at the center of a fight over synthetic drugs has found a new way to promote his business — paying for tattoos for customers willing to advertise his store on their bodies.
Jim Carlson, owner of the Last Place on Earth, told the Duluth News Tribune for a story published Wednesday that about 200 people have gotten the tattoos since he began the promotion about three weeks ago. He says he covers the cost up to $150, directly reimbursing the tattoo parlors.
Carlson says he also offers "incense" — a euphemism for one form of synthetic drug — to customers who get the tattoos. He said they get $65 worth for smaller tattoos and $130 worth for larger tattoos.
City officials have tried without success to shut down Carlson's store, which has been raided several times. Carlson and his son face federal and state drug charges for allegedly distributing controlled substances. He contends he's done nothing illegal.
Sancie Udovich proudly displayed her tattoo, on her left collar bone, depicting butterflies and the store's name. She had the initials "JC" tattooed as well, in homage to Carlson, she said.
Customers choose the design and location of the tattoo. It must incorporate the "Last Place on Earth" name or the initials LPOE and can't be in a location that would never be seen.
John Kaushold, a tattoo artist known as "Bones" who operates a West Duluth parlor and has known Carlson for 25 years, said he has done several dozen Last Place on Earth tattoos. He said his business was already doing well, but the additional tattoos generated by Last Place on Earth have been "a nice little punch in the arm."
Maude Dornfeld, executive director of Life House, a drop-in center for homeless youth, said she'd heard young people discussing the tattoos although she hadn't seen any wearing them. But she had strong feelings about the subject.
"As an organization, we find the whole thing very distasteful," Dornfeld said. "The idea that someone would take advantage of people in that way is really offensive."
Carlson said he reminds patrons considering the tattoos about "the repercussions of being associated with us." But adults have the right to get the tattoos, he said, even if it displeases family members.
"For the mother that's got a 21-year-old kid that she thinks she's still in charge of, she can't keep them from drinking, she can't keep them from smoking, and she can't keep them from getting a tattoo," he said.