Nestled right between Party Depot and Main Street Pub is Brookings’ newest hidden gem: Lucky Eagle Tattoo Company.
Lucky Eagle moved to Brookings a few months ago from Watertown, setting up shop at 408 Main Ave.
Co-owners Josh Birrittieri and Dustin ‘DJ’ Eckman only met a few weeks before becoming business partners and opening shop.
“Josh wanted to expand and I was looking to start a new business, so we were both actually looking at this building for a shop and the landlord connected us,” Eckman said.
Birrittieri, originally from San Antonio, first opened Lucky Eagle two years ago in Watertown, where he not only worked, but lived — sleeping on an air mattress at night after closing.
Eckman, from Columbus, Ohio, also has experience operating a tattoo shop, having owned one himself in Sioux Falls prior. He also has a business degree from Lake Area Technical Institute.
“He’s the business one, I’m the free spirit,” Birrittieri said.
Since opening in Brookings, Watertown’s Lucky Eagle had to close its doors when the artist overseeing operations moved out of state.
The pair said it only took about three weeks from deciding to go into business together to opening their doors. Both have owned and operated tattoo shops in the past and had much of their own equipment, furniture and know-how to get a shop up and running.
While still working to build their clientele base in Brookings, Birrittieri said clients have followed them from Sioux Falls, Watertown and surrounding areas because of the shop’s time in Watertown and participation in regional conventions.
It only took four days after their soft opening at the end of January for their first customer to walk in the doors, Eckman said, and interest has been steadily growing ever since.
Junior sports management major Aristarchus Payton stumbled upon Lucky Eagle while eating downtown and decided to check it out. He ended up getting a tattoo from Eckman.
“He is very light handed and pays attention to detail,” Payton said. “My tattoo only took about 30 minutes and I am greatly satisfied. I truly trust him as an artist now.”
Despite its downtown location, Lucky Eagle isn’t in the business of tattooing drunk patrons, which is part of why they close their doors at 8 p.m.
Although they’ve only just opened shop in Brookings, Birrittieri and Eckman have their sights set on expanding.
“We want to be a company, Lucky Eagle Tattoo Company, not just a shop,” Eckman said. “We want to potentially be the first tattoo chain in this area.”
Lucky Eagle is the second tattoo shop in Brookings, and Payton is happy to see more tattooists come to town.
“Brookings is a college town, so each year freshmen come with aspirations to get piercings and hidden tattoos,” Payton said. “Having a local tattoo parlor with reliable artists is a big deal.”
Both artists specialize in traditional Americana style, characterized by bold lining, and harsh colors and dimensions.
Eckman leans toward neo-traditional, saying he has a “more modern flair” in his work.
He started out tattooing in gray and black, but wanted to dabble in color-mixing palettes. Lately, Eckman said, his passion has been oriental style tattoos, which he doesn’t get to do often.
“Oriental style tattoos are unrealistic realism — richer color palettes, accent with brighter tones and bring elements of nature into the tattoo,” he said.
Birrittieri’s gift in traditional tattoos is something Eckman said he can mimic, but not fully replicate.
Birrittieri’s inclination toward traditional styles is evident not only in his portfolio, but also his supplies.
Eckman, like many artists, uses disposable, one-time use supplies, while Birrittieri prefers to clean his in a steam autoclave. It takes a lot of extra effort and time, but Birrittieri enjoys what is becoming an “old-school” practice and being “self-sufficient.”
Innovation and technology have evolved tattooing in many ways beyond tattooing supplies, both Eckman and Birrittieri said.
“TV brought good tattoos into people’s homes,” Eckman said. “With shows like ‘Ink Master’ and ‘LA Ink,’ tattoos became more common and accepted.”
Technique has changed with technological innovation over the years Eckman and Birrittieri have been in the business.
“A lot of the artistry is being lost,” Birrittieri said. “It’s more of a printing business than artistry these days.”
Digital technology and design has made the tattoo industry much quicker, Eckman said. This is another area where Eckman and Birrittieri differ slightly in the way they work. Eckman can draw things by hand, but he also creates designs in computer programs, while Birrittieri prefers to do it all by hand.
An unique trait of Lucky Eagle is how they price tattoos. Their minimum charge is $50, and about $10 per square inch — they charge by the size and complexity of the piece, whereas most shops have a $100 minimum per hour, Eckman said.
“Regardless of my financial situation, I’m not going to take money from a customer,” Eckman said. He said artists could potentially abuse the by-hour rule to make more money. “That’s not how we operate. We do it for the customers.”