In late April of 2020, Hamilton tattoo studio Grey Harbour was the victim of indiscriminate arson, the only James Street business out of the three targeted to lose their entire building. Opened in 2015 by Tom Penny, Rob Vino, and former Grey Harbour artist Sherlane White, the nautical themed studio sat above La Bichette boutique overlooking the bustling James Street North. Following the attack, the three artists and shop owners Tom Penny, Rob Vino, and Steven James were left shopless, not only had they been out of work due to COVID-19 restrictions, but now they found themselves without a storefront to return to.
“To me, tattooing is an event,” Steven James told CFMU. “I enjoy people coming in, preparing to spend the day with us, laughing, talking about anything and everything, and making sure the client knows that they’re being focused on. We try to set up a space that is safe, comfortable, and contributes to the overall experience because when the client looks at their tattoo, they’ll always remember the time that they had.”
On April 21, 2020, Tom Penny received a text at 7:30pm that said Born and Raised, a restaurant down the street from Grey Harbour, was on fire. Feeling anxious, the artist drove down to his shop to grab a few important things but discovered that he was too late.
GREY HARBOUR FOLLOWING THE ATTACK [PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM PENNY]
“Initially I was messaged asking if that was our shop, because I was out of town, my partners were the ones who had to rush to the scene and deal with the heavy lifting,” said James.
“I believe we were allowed to enter the building the following day after the fire Marshall had done their inquiry. It was very surreal, my first thoughts were to get to the shop and see for myself what had happened,” said Rob Vino. “All I could think of was the original artwork on the walls, and the irreplaceable artifacts collected over the years - and my Buffalo head.”
The individual responsible was arrested later that evening, after causing an estimated $100,000 in damage
“As far as I have been told, it was due to an arson attack, where they pushed paper under the door and lit it, but I don’t have the full story on that,” said James.
Previously eyeing a vacant property across the street, the James Street store owners were looking to relocate before the fire gutted their business.
“We had plans prior to the fire to relocate but COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns put a wrench in those plans,” said Vino. “After the fire, we saw it as an opportunity to relocate to the space across the street that we were already interested in. It seemed fitting to stay in the same area.”
The re-opening took around four to five months, the pandemic aiding in providing ample time for the artists to rebuild the shop. The new Grey Harbour officially opened on 172 James Street North, on August 1, 2020.
THE NEW GREY HARBOUR STUDIO [PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM PENNY]
“We were able to raise our target goal on our GoFundMe to replenish and rebuild what the fire took from us,” said Vino. “The community and support played all the roles in that. Without that support, we wouldn’t have been able to build the shop we’re in now. It was our duty at that point to give back and build a space the community would feel comfortable in, and love getting tattooed in.”
One negative act has been outweighed by the hundreds of positives
The tattoo artists were overwhelmed by the public’s generous and empathetic reactions. The passionate community supporters, city-wide news coverage and multiple fundraisers were vital to the shop’s revival. A GoFundMe with a $25,000 goal created by Brock Ryan raised $10,000 within the first day, and local printing company Smokestack Studios partnered with over 20 local tattoo artists to create copper etched plates sold in support of the shop.
“It’s hard to grasp the full extent of it, you never know the flow of support you have until you experience a loss like that,” said James. “I am thankful and humbled by the overwhelming positive and caring responses everybody has sent us. It will always show to me that there is more good in this world than bad, one negative act has been outweighed by the hundreds of positives.”
For now, fundraisers are on pause but keep your eyes peeled for future ways to support the artists and keep up with Grey Harbour via their Instagram page.