Near Rick's Cafe on Martin Luther King Drive stands a humble Starkville business which differs from that of a typical college town. The staff is only made up of one individual who has brought expression and creativity to his craft for over two decades.
James "Chris" Callicott is the owner and sole employee of Vintage Tattoo. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, and raised in Hernando, Mississippi, Callicot experimented with many different types of artistic mediums growing up. He never planned on pursuing tattoo artistry as a career, but he could not imagine his life with any other career now.
"I started out as a janitor and a watchdog, then everything went up from there," Callicott said.
Callicott has worked in the industry for around 25 years. He started working in Southaven, Mississippi, and then spent a few years in Arizona. He was bouncing around from city to city until he took over Vintage Tattoo from a close friend and settled here in Starkville. He claims to have acquired the shop to go in a better direction than it originally was.
"It was a random chance that I ended up here ... opportunity, I guess," Callicott said.
Callicott also yearns to put an end to the stereotype of tattoo shops being "predatory" against women and minorities and make it an inclusive environment where artistry is to be celebrated and welcoming to all.
"I know a lot of good guys in this business ... but there is still a problem in certain places. Run it like a business, and make it inclusive instead of exclusive. I want everybody to be comfortable here," Callicott said.
Savanna Clardy, a junior elementary education major at Mississippi State University, has had a couple of bad experiences with tattoo and piercing shops. She praised Vintage Tattoo for a different experience.
"I think the guy that runs it is why it stands out, because he made the experience memorable and safe at the same time," Clardy said.
Callicott recalled a Friday night where the shop was full of smiling faces and kind words and people of various races and genders. He was excited to see the camaraderie and comfort that people found in Vintage Tattoo.
"It's like a concert. Nobody cares about what people there look like; Everyone is there to listen to the music," Callicott said.
Alli Norcross, a sophomore elementary education major at MSU, recalled her experience at Vintage Tattoo and Calicott's kindness during her visit.
"He constantly made sure I was okay since this was my first rib tattoo — a notoriously painful placement — and was so kind through the whole process," Norcross said.
In the time of COVID-19, almost every aspect of the tattoo industry has been affected. Callicott has seen an increase in his supplies and increased his rates. He does not allow walk-ins due to social-distancing laws, which has caused him to deal with many impatient clients.
"A third of our supplies are medical, and everything has either doubled or tripled in price. It changes the way you've done things for 20 or more years," Callicott said. "This is not the business to cut corners, either."
Callicott displayed enthusiasm for every part of his job but especially in regard to the hours he works. Being the sole employee, Callicott opens the shop around 1 p.m. and closes at midnight.
"I don't have to wake up in the morning, it's as simple as that!" Callicott said.
His least favorite part of the job is trying to talk people out of having a certain concept or idea tattooed on their body forever. He does this frequently, especially in terms of cover-ups or dead trends.
"People get a certain idea in their mind, and they are not gonna hear anything different," Callicott said.
When asked if he thinks college students have good taste in tattoos, Callicott said he was indifferent because taste is subjective. He believes it is an individualized thought process.
Ariana Collazo, a junior biological sciences major at MSU, has a brother who owns a tattoo parlor and has many tattoos himself. She spoke of the importance of having faith in your artist for such an intricate process.
"If you don't trust your artist, you don't need to be getting a tattoo," Collazo said.
Callicott wants everyone to know patience and trust in your artist is key to a smooth process.
"If something makes your spidey-senses go off, vote with your wallet. There are too many bad shops that do the wrong thing.The only way people learn is by being penalized financially," Callicott said.
Vintage Tattoo currently has over 10,600 posts on the shop's Instagram account (@VintageTattoo), and there is not one picture of Callicott himself. He claims this is because he wants to make it about the artistry and not himself.
Vintage Tattoo is open six days a week, promoting both artistry and inclusivity in its small corner of Starkville.