From the Golden State to the Granite State: Why These Tattoo Artists Made N.H. Home
It’s six o’clock at night on a Tuesday at New InkLand Tattoo. Two clients are getting ink done and the place is going to be open late, like it is most nights.
Angel Villanueva runs the shop. He says he’s originally from Los Angeles, where he had a tattoo shop for 20 years. But about eight years ago, he made a trip to New Hampshire.
“Came out here to do a tattoo convention and nobody knew about me, nobody cared about me, so it was kind of cool to start all over again,” Villanueva says. “It just always started pulling me back here, pulling me back here, I really love spending time here.”
Villanueva found himself making more and more trips to the Granite State. He says he was drawn here by the four seasons, the trees, a lower crime rate and cheaper cost of living.
New InkLand is a business, to be sure, but it's a place to hangout in Manchester, too.
One tattoo artist sketches out his latest design, a circular piece that looks like it’s inspired by the Mayan Calendar. And there’s a sign near the door that reads: “Enter as a stranger. Leave as a friend.”
But not everything about transplanting his life and business here was easy for Villanueva.
“As much as I love it, I used to get very frustrated here, because, you know, there are a lot of people who have never left the state and they don’t know there are other races out there,” Villanueva says. “So you get seen a little different, but if you don’t let it bother you then you’re good to go.”
When he decided to open his own tattoo shop, Villanueva, who is Hispanic, says he didn’t find the process easy.
“I hate to get racial, but there was a lot of discrimination when it comes to opening up business,” Villanueva says. “I was given the run-around for a whole year with the stupidest excuses.”
Villanueva says he ended up buying the business from someone who was non-Hispanic, and that the permitting process went smoother for the person he bought it from.
“It took him a week,” Villanueva says.
But today, business is good.
A few years ago Villanueva decided to move from his original location around the corner to the main drag on Elm Street. Since then, more tattooers have joined the shop from out-of-state, including his son, Martin Trout. He moved from L.A. too.
“It’s very affordable compared to where I lived,” Trout says. “You could get a crappy one bedroom and you’re paying over $1,500 a month just because you’re living in LA: Here, I’ve got a nice house, pay affordable rent [and] do whatever I want.”
In the last few years, Villanueva says he’s lured non-family members to the Granite State as well.
“Everybody that works here is from somewhere different,” Villanueva says. “Like there’s two guys here that I brought from Puerto Rico.
One of those guys is Gustavo Chang. He says he left Puerto Rico about three years ago, but it’s still on his mind.
“The island where I used to live is going through a crisis because of the hurricane, so it’s a little hard out there right now,” Chang says. “And the cost of living, you can’t get a lot of food, water...so it’s a little bit easier out here.”
It turns out this tattoo shop - with its mix of out-of-staters and different races - is in some ways representative of what’s happening demographically in New Hampshire.
Between 2010 and 2016, about 320,000 people moved from other states to New Hampshire, according to Kenneth Johnson, Senior Demographer at UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy. That was a slower pace than pre-Great Recession. But today, Johnson says, out-of-state migration is on the uptick again.
He also says this migration is changing the racial makeup of New Hampshire, which is still 90 percent white.
“The population of the state is becoming more diverse, relatively slowly, but it is,” Johnson says.
Johnson says Manchester - where one in five residents are minorities - is the second most diverse city in the state, after Nashua.
Back at the tattoo shop in the Queen City, Villanueva says he’s seen things shift over the years.
"I think I remember when I first started coming around, I think in 2010, there wasn’t really many Hispanic people that I knew of,” Villanueva says. “And ever since, even the city has grown a lot and I see a lot more Hispanic people coming here.”
The main strip on Elm street has changed too, according to Villanueva. He says it’s getting harder to find business space. And he feels like he’s made a name for himself in the area.
“I think I have made a little bit of an impact, as far as culture-wise - like tattoo culture-wise,” Villanueva says. “And everybody seems to be liking it more, just being accepted a little bit more.”
Villanueva’s next plan? Trying to get his parents to move out from Southern California too.