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Shipwreck Tattoo – a new start in a new city

Algoma transplant recently opened the tattoo parlor on Steele Street

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September 5, 2023

ALGOMA – Looking for a fresh start and a way out of the constant stress, Eric Rohner said he and his family moved to Algoma earlier this year – a move he describes as much needed.

Rohner said he was working all day and all night for little to no gain.

“I never saw my kids, and if I did, it was to be a parent, and I didn’t only want that,” he said.

The initial thought, Rohner said, was to take a vacation, which became quite a few vacations with locations in Door County and other places in Kewaunee County.

Though the original plan was to move south, Rohner said they decided to take the chance and move to Algoma.

“This was a long shot – it was expensive and took almost everything we had…,” he said. “But it’s by a lake, the beautiful beaches, the land around here – it’s just inspiration.”

The move to the community of a bit more than 3,100 also included a business venture for the Rohners.

In July, with nearly 30 years of experience in the industry, Rohner opened Shipwreck Tattoo (326 Steele St.) and said it’s been busy since.

So far, Rohner said the community has been exceptionally helpful and open to the idea of a tattoo shop.

With nearly 30 years in the industry under his belt, Rohner – who knew early on in life that there was no other career path for him than being a tattoo artist – said he’s witnessed and experienced all sorts of negative stereotypes.

“Inherently in this business, there’s been a lot of toxicity over the years, and it’s perceived badly,” he said. “Bad perceptions have been propagated by the people with tattoos and those who do them. I want to change that.”

During the time he has been in Northeast Wisconsin, and Algoma specifically, Rohner said everyone is welcoming of the art all around.

“This town seems to want the arts,” he said. “They want to support the arts and artists. There’s murals everywhere, and you see it in the community they push for that out-of-the-box thinking.”

Rohner said the community has an energy about it – “They want to see everybody prosper.”

“You don’t get that everywhere,” he said. “It was a sigh of relief when I started seeing that. The community is just as active and wants us.”

Rohner said the Algoma community has welcomed his family and Shipwreck Tattoo with open arms.

“They stopped by to make sure everything was okay,” he said. “They’ve said ‘hello’ walking down the street. I’ve heard multiple times how excited they are for the coming year.”

Taking chances
Before making his way to Algoma, Rohner sold Ye Old Tattoo (located in the Platteville area, where he is originally from), as well as a shop he co-owned in Galena, Illinois.

Rohner and his family moved to the Algoma area with no ties to the area, no family, no one to rely on – “like a leaf on the wind.”

“It’s one of those things where it was a huge long shot, but like they say, ‘no risk, no reward,’” he said. “You have to take chances.”

So far, Rohner said the leap seems to be working out.

“It’s weird, it almost seemed to be when we got the ball rolling that things naturally began working out,” he said.

Finding the Shipwreck Tattoo storefront, Rohner said, was a happy accident – especially since at that point, they were just looking for a house.

“Something told me to call on the storefront (we saw on Steele Street) – and they also had a house for rent as well.” he continues, “After that, everything started clicking together. It’s almost like this was meant to be. I don’t like to put it on fate necessarily, but there is definitely something pushing me along.”

At the end of the day, Rohner said his biggest drive is to be happy and comfortable – and be able to see his kids grow up.

He said he sees the move to Algoma and the opening of Shipwreck Tattoo as a life reset to some degree.

Rohner said tattooing is a growing industry in general, so no matter where he went, he expected to find success over time.

Success in Algoma, however, came quicker than he anticipated.

“After being here for a while, meeting the people and seeing what they bring to the table, I’m already considering expansion (and am) looking for like-minded individuals who want to grow with me to push the business a little farther and a little more,” he said. 

Shipwreck Tattoo is located at 326 Steele St. in Algoma. The shop opened in July. Submitted Photo

It helps, Rohner said, that the community has welcomed him, and that he attracts clients from Door and Kewaunee counties, as well as vacationing walk-ins.

Once things start rolling at the Algoma location, Rohner said one of his goals is a seasonal shop in Sturgeon Bay.

Rohner said he is looking forward to having a full schedule, but not having it be such a fast-paced environment like the other locations he owned or worked at.

Why Shipwreck Tattoo?
The shop’s name itself, Rohner said, hints to a new start.

“I have washed up on the shores (of Algoma), and I want to be part of the community and help it grow,” he said. “Let’s turn the shipwreck into a house. We can all enjoy it.”

Though he loves the name Shipwreck now, Rohner said they went through a lot of names before landing on the name.

One example, he said, was “Hello Sailor.”

Managing seasons
Recognizing that much of Shipwreck Tattoo’s business will likely come during the warmer months, Rohner said he plans to be strategic with sessions – completing larger pieces, such as full sleeves or larger pieces, in separate sessions and eventually having overflow work that carries into the winter.

“With us being new in the area, I don’t expect this winter to be the best for us, to be honest with you,” he said. “But that’s every shop I’ve ever worked at or opened – winter is always the hardest.”

As a seasoned business owner, Rohner said he’s experienced the first winter enough to know if they can make it through this one, they’ll be able to work with it and build up a big enough name to be able to make a living going forward.

How to get inked
Right now, Rohner said he and his wife – the two artists on staff – are only a week or two out for bookings, so there are plenty of openings to be had.

Shipwreck Tattoo pricing, Rohner said, is $130 per hour with a minimum of $100.

The shop accepts walk-ins when it can, but Rohner said they prefer appointments.

Shipwreck Tattoo is currently hosting First Fridays – where walk-ins can select a tattoo from pre-designed options on the wall.

In October, Rohner said the shop plans to host a Friday the 13th event to commemorate his favorite holiday – Halloween, which may include a party.

For more information on pricing, hours and special events, check out Shipwreck Tattoo’s Facebook page.

More than just a tattoo shop
Rohner said he enjoys interacting and connecting with his clients.

“We (try) to be there for clients,” he said. “I’ve had numerous clients where I’ve sat and talked to them through troubles and issues. I try to be there for everybody.”

That connection, Rohner said, isn’t just limited to clients – doing what he can to support all members of the community he calls home.

From the community to employees and beyond, he said he wants everyone to know his goal is to be there to spread happiness, joy and opportunity.

“My fellow artists, they don’t get many chances in life, and I want to make that happen,” he said. “And maybe it’s the dad in me, or something else. I didn’t have a lot of chances. I had a lot of struggles. I don’t sit well with that – so, the kids deserve a chance. They deserve an opportunity to grow. I want to help do that.”

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