Exotic Body Works celebrates 25th anniversary
HAMMONTON—Keith Titus, owner of Exotic Body Works, a downtown tattoo shop, will be celebrating his business’s 25th anniversary on March 4. Last year the shop was closed for three months due to the pandemic.
On March 19, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy ordered the closure of all personal care businesses, which included tattoo parlors. It wasn’t until three months later that Murphy would sign an executive order allowing tattoo parlors to reopen on June 22.
“It was insane for three months last year. Eventually I would literally come to my store and sit in here and clean or just come here and meditate because I needed to get away from my house,” Titus said.
Since reopening, the shop has taken extra safety precautions including placing signage about wearing masks and social distancing, taking people’s temperatures and having an occupancy limit. With the occupancy limit, the shop isn’t allowed to have more than the person getting tattooed in the chair unless they are a minor—who is allowed one parent or guardian.
The stations were already spaced out pre-pandemic, which allowed social distancing, and the artists were already familiar with sanitation practices.
“We were already doing sanitation practices based on blood-borne pathogens. Now basically, we had to take it up a notch,” Titus said. Cleaning now includes pens, doorknobs, handles, etc. which are all wiped down.
Currently, there are no walk-ins. Appointments are scheduled over the phone or online.
“Once it was in the news online and the news broadcasted ‘tattoo shops reopened’ we couldn’t keep up with the phone calls, the emails, the everything. It was insane,” Titus said.
To help with scheduling, Titus hired an assistant over the summer because it was hard to keep up with the large amount of people who wanted an appointment.
“Overall, it’s been positive. I didn’t expect the outcome—when we reopened I honestly thought people would be scared to come out still,” Titus said.
March 4, 2021 will mark Exotic Body Work’s 25th anniversary and Titus’ 46th birthday. He opened the shop in 1996 when he turned 21.
“When I first opened, it was still very taboo. Initially I had trouble finding a place to rent in town. Everybody I called, once I said it’s for tattoos, didn’t want to talk to me or refused to talk to me,” Titus said.
The landlord eventually gave him a chance, but even the landlord was apprehensive because he thought it would attract motorcycles in town, but Titus wasn’t a biker.
Titus said that, in the 1990s, there were three tattoo shops in Atlantic County; now there are about 30.
“Tattooing, style-wise has changed a lot, like a whole lot. There’s a lot of new equipment, machinery; the machines are totally different now … There’s a lot of high-tech stuff now. There’s wireless machines. There’s definitely innovations now that are making tattooing way different. The sky’s the limit on designs now, especially with the internet,” Titus said.
Titus and Brian Bocker still draw their designs by hand, even with new technology available.
Titus has tattooed people from all aspects of life.
“Now there’s people that we’ve never done tattoo, that are getting tattooed because they’re comfortable,” he said.
Some of his clients are from Hammonton, but the shop attracts people from all over the tristate area, from teenagers to grandparents.
When asked about the most rewarding part of tattooing, Titus said, “The fact that you’re able to put something on somebody for the rest of their life and they trust you. It feels nice to put something on people that sometimes changes their life. People have that reminder every day to them. Some people get memorials, inspirational pieces, that are on them forever. A lot of people they just want to walk around with your artwork, your creation on them. It’s an honor. It really is an honor,” Titus said.
Exotic Body Works has been in the same building on Central Avenue since 1996.
“I’ve been in this location so long, it’s hard for me to separate from it if that makes sense. People know we’re here. I literally had to move two doors away back in 2007 and ‘08 for structural issues in the building and people had no idea where I was,” Titus said.
Titus has been tattooing since he was 15. Even before that, he was offered an apprenticeship by a family friend.
“I’ve been around this since I was 7 or 8 years old. My father and my mother had friends and family that were tattoo artists in Philadelphia. I was offered my first apprenticeship when I was 10, but my mom was like, ‘No way! You’re 10 years old!’” he said.
Before he decided to be a tattoo artist, Titus had plans on being a plumber. He went through four years of vocational school for plumbing and he did well with it, but tattooing took over his life.
When he’s not tattooing, he’s at home with his daughter Zayla and helping her with virtual learning. Photos of his daughter and his artwork cover the orange walls around his station.
“I’m a single parent too, so that’s really hard too because I’m at my business half the day. Luckily my mother helps me with her. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. My daughter’s awesome. She’s great, and she loves the fact that I’m a tattoo artist. I don’t think she realizes the coolness of it yet because she’s only 7, but I know one day she’s going to realize that her dad’s job is really, really cool,” Titus said.
Courtney Errera is a longtime client of Titus who’s known him since he opened almost 25 years ago. She’s currently adding Disney themed tattoos on her leg, so far she has Cinderella’s castle, Dumbo, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and recently Nemo.
“We were laughing the other night. I was like, ‘you were around my kids when they were in diapers and newborns and now you’re tattooing them,’” Errera said.
On January 7, 2021, Titus tattooed bats on Errera’s son, Nathan Rodriguez, which is his fourth tattoo. He said he’s going to add doves to his sleeve in the future. One of Rodriguez’s previous tattoos included a memorial for his father, who died in 2019. Errera said her family only goes to Titus.
“Whatever you want. He will literally make it come to life. Like we couldn’t find any Dumbos that look realistic. He drew that to make it look realistic,” Errera said.
Bill LaManna, the piercer at Exotic Body Works, has worked with Titus for eight years.
“The guy’s like my best friend. He taught me how to do what I do. He gave me a chance. It worked out … I spent every night with the guy for the past eight years. I’ve been friends with him for probably over 10. It’s kind of like I married him,” LaManna said.
During the three months they were closed, LaManna was able to make money from his day job at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital.
“I still had my state job. These guys lost all their income. I lost half my income,” he said.
When the shop reopened, LaManna was busy piercing. Sometimes he would have 20 people in a night.
“I’m sick of looking at both of them [Titus and Bocker] honestly. Everyone watches these TV shows and there’s like all these half naked girls running around and it’s a big party and it’s all fun and games, but no, it’s just three guys in here working together, staring at each other,” LaManna said.
In the past, there’s been three tattoo artists and Titus plans hiring another one this year.
Exotic Body Works is located at 4 Central Ave., and Titus is currently booking tattoos for April and Bocker is booking for March. To make an appointment call (609) 704-9266 or email Titus at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bocker at bbockertats@ yahoo.com.