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John Lundy, Forum News Service, Published May 08 2013

Controversial Duluth head shop advertising with tattoos

DULUTH, Minn. - Duluth’s most controversial business is advertising in a distinctive way: With the words “Last Place on Earth” tattooed on the arms, hands, necks and thighs of some of the head shop’s customers.

About 200 people have gotten the tattoos since the promotion began about three weeks ago, said Jim Carlson, the store’s owner. Carlson said he covers the cost of the tattoo up to $150, directly reimbursing the tattoo parlor that provided it.

Customer Sancie Udovich, 28, proudly displayed her “Last Place on Earth” tattoo at the store on Tuesday. Placed across her left collarbone, it depicts butterflies with the store’s name accompanying them. She had the initials “JC” tattooed as well, in homage to Carlson, she said.

The Lincoln Park woman said she had the tattoo done four days earlier at Bones Specialty Tattoos in West Duluth. Carlson covered the $150 price of the tattoo but offered no other compensation, Udovich said.

But Carlson said that in addition to covering up to $150 of the cost, he offers “incense” — a euphemism for one form of synthetic drug — to customers who get the tattoos, $65 worth for smaller tattoos and $130 worth for larger tattoos.

The business being advertised is unpopular in many quarters. Mayor Don Ness called it out in his State of the City address. Other downtown merchants say its presence has hurt their business. The store has been raided several times, and Carlson and his son, Joseph Gellerman, face federal and state charges on allegations of distributing controlled substances.

The controversy centers on products such as incense that are used as synthetic drugs.

John Kaushold, the tattoo artist who is better known as “Bones” and who operates the West Duluth store, said he has done several dozen Last Place on Earth tattoos.

A tattoo artist for 29 years, Kaushold said his business has been doing well this year, but the additional tattoos generated by Last Place on Earth have been “a nice little punch in the arm.”

The average tattoo at his business costs between $75 and $100, said Kaushold, who has known Carlson for 25 years. All are custom-made.

“I don’t believe in cookie-cutter anything,” Kaushold said. “I like thinking outside the box.”

Carlson said the idea developed when he was telling Gellerman about an article that told of people advertising products or businesses with tattoos. A customer listening to the conversation said she’d be glad to get a “Last Place on Earth” tattoo. Another customer saw the results and said she’d also be willing to get a tattoo. It spread from there, Carlson said.

The tattoos are done at reputable establishments with long track records, Carlson said, primarily Bones Specialty Tattoos and Dark Angel Ink on Central Entrance. Customers, working with the tattoo artists, choose the design and location of the tattoo. It must incorporate the “Last Place on Earth” name or the initials LPOE and can’t be in a location that would never be seen.

“They’re actually getting beautiful pieces of work with our name or LPOE incorporated into it,” Carlson said.

One customer had a tattoo depicting a globe with the words “Last Place on Earth” around it, he said. Another had a fairy holding a banner with the words.

Maude Dornfeld, executive director of Life House, a drop-in center for homeless youth, said she has heard the young people her nonprofit serves discuss the LPOE tattoos, although she hasn’t seen any wearing them. But she has strong feelings about the tattoos.

“As an organization, we find the whole thing very distasteful,” Dornfeld said. “The idea that someone would take advantage of people in that way is really offensive.”

Carlson said he reminds patrons considering the tattoos about “the repercussions of being associated with us.” But the bottom line is that adults have the right to get the tattoos, he said, even if it displeases family members.

“For the mother that’s got a 21-year-old kid that she thinks she’s still in charge of, she can’t keep them from drinking, she can’t keep them from smoking, and she can’t keep them from getting a tattoo,” he said.