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The University Star

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The University Star


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Local piercer retires after 25 years

Dave Mesa (left) works on a client, Saturday, May 4, 2019, at the Tattoo Emporium. Photo courtesy of Dave Mesa.

Editor’s note: The University Star incorrectly spelled Kaley William’s on Tuesday; June 25, 2024. The correct name is reflected in the online version of this story.

After decades of leaving a mark on the community, Dave Mesa, the owner and piercer at Tattoo Emporium at 120 N LBJ Drive, retired as a piercer on June 7.

Mesa began his journey in Virginia as a counter helper at a tattoo and piercing shop. He relocated to San Marcos in 2007 to further hone his craft. For a decade, Mesa worked at Classic Tattoos, where his skills and customer rapport flourished. After a year of hiatus, the shop underwent renovations, prompting him to explore other opportunities.

Mesa met Brian Price, the original owner of Tattoo Emporium, and opted to establish his business as a piercer there. After a while of working at Tattoo Emporium prior to the current moniker, he approached Price with the idea of purchasing the establishment from its former owner, leading Price to sell it to him. Mesa owned the decade-old shop for the next six years.

“We want you to look better walking out of our shop than when you walked in,” Mesa said.

One community member impacted by Mesa’s talent as a piercer, Keith Duncan, got pierced by Mesa in spring 2021. He remembers the positive experience he had with him while getting his first piercing.

“I feel when a piercer understands the stress involved with getting something like a piercing and genuinely cares about their clients throughout the entire process, it reflects their skills as an artist and their quality as a person; and that shows in Dave,” Duncan said.

Mesa aimed to create a welcoming, distinctive atmosphere where clients feel safe and comfortable in the hands of the artists. He also wanted an environment that supports tattoo artists and piercers, fostering comfort and inspiring passion for their craft.

“People should spend little time as possible doing something they dislike,” Mesa said. “I knew I wanted to build a shop people enjoy working at, and I feel I have accomplished that.”

Woff, one of the Tattoo Emporium’s artists, boasts a decade of experience as a tattoo artist and three years at the shop. He appreciates Tattoo Emporium’s unique blend of traditional tattoo aesthetics and Mesa’s personal touch, making the atmosphere intriguing for clients and artists interested in the shop and for those who work there.

“What I like about Dave is that he’s not afraid to tell a client ‘No,’ of course for all the good reasons,” Woff said. “If a client is not anatomically correct for a piercing, he will say no. [Saying no to clients] really comes from care for clients as our job deals with body alteration, and that is a big deal and a lot of money clients are using.”

Kaley Williams, a former Tattoo Emporium piercer, had the opportunity to learn from Mesa after going to every shop in downtown San Marcos, handing them her resume and showcasing her artwork.

This prompted Mesa to call her for a chance to become his piercing padawan, a term from “Star Wars” referring to a young apprentice learning under a seasoned master.

“He’ll never criticize you in front of clients, but he won’t hesitate once they leave,” Williams said. “It comes from a place of love and wanting success for you. It’s a high-pressure job, so if you can’t handle criticism from a boss or mentor, you likely can’t handle a hovering parent while you’re piercing their kid.”

Mesa believes it is important to prepare his “piercing padawans” for the stress and dedication it takes during an apprenticeship, teaching them through tough love and encouraging them to do the best they can.

“I was so fortunate to have work with wonderful coworkers,” Williams said. “Although the piercing community is a lot smaller than the tattoo community, there are so many different perspectives and artists to learn from and appreciate.”

Although Mesa has retired as a piercer, he plans to continue running the shop.

For more information on the Tattoo Emporium, visit https://tattooemporiumsanmarcos.com/.

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