Andy Valentin’s cell phone rang nonstop Monday evening as a client tried to reach him. It was late, around 10 p.m., so it was unlikely the customer was calling the 24-year-old tattoo artist for new ink.
Instead, Valentin received horrifying news when he answered his phone. The client, a volunteer firefighter, was standing outside Valentin’s tattoo shop in Kannapolis.
The building was engulfed in flames, he said.
When Valentin finally got to his shop, he saw crews from multiple agencies trying to contain the blaze.
He held his head down and cried.
“Seeing my dream literally burning in front of me, you might as well have poured gasoline on me and thrown a match to it,” he said. “It was that kind of feeling.”
Valentin lost everything: his tattoo machines, his ink, two iPads, couches, televisions and drawings.
“Everything I ever worked for was in that building, and in just a few minutes, it all got destroyed,” he said.
Now he is trying to raise money to restart the business. A GoFundMe page was created to help take in donations, and the campaign raised nearly $2,000 by Friday.
The building on North Enochville Avenue was built in 1947, according to Rowan County officials. It was home to the Westside Store, a popular longtime convenience store and restaurant. The convenience store had been in the building for decades. Valentin’s shop, Andy Electric Tattoos, had only been there for six months.
He fell in love with art in New Jersey as a child, when he would create graffiti art as a teenager. He eventually participated in art shows in New York and Florida, where he created paintings on canvas.
Valentin moved to North Carolina two years ago with just $60 to his name, he said. He bounced around tattoo parlors while he saved money to open his own shop. Now he just hopes to reopen the business.
Eric Peterson, a client-turned-friend of Valentin, is trying to help by selling shirts with Valentin’s logo in an effort to raise money for new equipment.
“I almost cried when I saw (the damage),” Peterson said. “He put a lot of work into that place.”
Peterson met Valentin a year ago, when the artist gave him an American flag tattoo on his arm. Valentin has since covered up one of Peterson’s old tattoos from a different artist, and helped complete a sleeve on his right arm.
The cause and origin of the fire are still under investigation, according Kevin Aube, a lieutenant with the Rowan County fire division. A report detailing the cost in damages for the building may not be available until early next week, he said.
As for now, Valentin hopes to get temporary work while he finds a way to reopen his studio. He wants to get back to his favorite part of his craft: watching people enjoy their new tattoo.
“They smile and they feel so much more confident and better about themselves,” he said. “That ending process, that’s why I do it. For the people and not so much for me.”