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Still alive after 15 years: Dead Rockstar keeps busy with piercings, tattoos as body art trends change

Dead Rockstar owners, from left, Josh Anderson, Chuck Kesler and Jenny Gunderson are celebrating their 15th year in business at 3401 Interstate Blvd S. in fargo.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO—When Chuck Kesler's business had some extra room last year, it seemed like a good time to downsize. Instead, it moved into an even bigger space—and he joked that's a good analogy for how things have gone the whole time he's been in business.

"Planned this way, and then it ends up this way," he said.

But Kesler and his sister, Jenny Gunderson, must be doing something right. Dead Rockstar, their tattoo and piercing studio, celebrated its 15th anniversary on May 6.

Things have changed since it opened in 2002 at 4501 15th Ave. S. with help from their family, including sister Ellie Maher and parents Kathy and Doug Kesler, and not just in the trendy piercings and tattoos of the moment.

A longtime tattooist in the shop, Josh Anderson, recently became a co-owner, helping Kesler and Gunderson move the operation to 3401 Interstate Blvd. S. in November.

Gunderson said the space is more open now and gets more light, giving the shop a spa-like atmosphere and helping the staff of six work more closely together.

Changing trends

When Anderson started as a tattoo artist, it seemed like everyone was getting kanji symbols and tribal work. He hasn't done a tribal tattoo in a couple of years now, and the popularity of Japanese symbols has faded, too.

Customers are also a lot less interested in looking at flash art, tattoo design examples that used to be on the walls at the last location. The shop still has some flash on the walls, but Gunderson said it's more for decoration now.

Instead, Anderson said they're more likely to come to him with a clear idea of what they want, whether it's an image they found online or a design they want to customize.

The "bread and butter" of his business these days is text lettering. Anderson calls them "Pinterest tattoos," the kind of thing that might take 10 minutes. Infinity symbols, feathers and birds are all trendy now, too.

He said his most rewarding work tends to be memorial-type pieces, like the EKG line and text he recently did for a client whose husband had died. In some way, he said, the art will always be there to remind her and help her heal.

Still, Anderson said everyone has their own reasons for getting a tattoo.

"It's nice when they walk out and they're happy," he said.

Kesler has noticed changing piercing trends. When Dead Rockstar opened in 2002, nine out of 10 piercings were belly buttons, but that's faded in popularity.

He said the fad of Daith piercings of the inner cartilage fold of the ear might be waning, but he still gets clients asking for them because they read online that it can alleviate migraines or help with weight loss or anxiety.

Kesler said clients often have personal reasons for getting a piercing, whether it's the adrenaline rush or a spiritual pursuit.

"As long as they're happy with it, that's all I ask," he said.

Kesler said local tattoo and body piercing shops tend to be more cooperative than they were 15 years ago. One shop might suggest that customers reach out to another artist that specializes in their desired tattoo style when it makes sense, for example.

With more shops in town now, Anderson said Dead Rockstar continues to stand out for its professionalism and the pride it takes in offering a clean, safe place to get body art.

"I think after being around for 15 years, our reputation is there," he said.

Business profile

What: Dead Rockstar

Where: 3401 Interstate Blvd. S., Fargo

Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Phone: (701) 277-7100

Online: www.deadrockstar.net

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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