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Blue Light Body Arts to open on the bricks in spring

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Starting off the day last Tuesday, Chris Norris, foreground, wipes down the glass on the jewelry counters at his Sore Loser tattoo studio at 8th and Vine streets.
Sore Loser tattoo artist Trent Burhenn works last week on a tattoo at the shop at 8th and Vine.

Chris Norris grew up in a house on W. 6th Street in Hays, so moving his tattoo and piercing shop to the heart of downtown is just going back to his neighborhood.

Sore Loser, the body arts shop that established its name at the corner of 8th and Vine streets 13 years ago, will move to 1008 Main sometime this spring.

That’s not all that’s changing.

“From what people tell me, the Sore Loser name, I hate to say iconic, but it’s well-known,” said Norris, talking recently about the move. “It was fun back in ’07 when we opened up, but you kind of grow up a little bit, and I kind of want to go, not in a different direction, but just slightly off the path we’re on right now.”

As Blue Light Body Arts, the shop’s new name conjures the captivating local history of Elizabeth Polly. Known fondly as the Blue Light Lady, the blue aura of Polly’s ghost, it’s said, still walks the hill south of town where she was buried in 1867 after succumbing to cholera while nursing Fort Hays’ soldiers dying of the epidemic.

“Yeah, it’s a huge thing here. I grew up hearing about it,” said Norris, a 1992 graduate of Hays High School. “I mean who didn’t walk out in the country looking for her grave? It’s a neat story that has to do with Hays, specifically.”

New opportunities

Being on Main Street opens up new opportunities for the business, which has three tattoo artists, two body piercers and a piercing apprentice.

“I don’t have much foot traffic here,” he said of his Vine Street location. “I want to get that person walking by that wouldn’t really think about it, and tease their brain a little. There’s been such a stigma with tattoos and piercings over the years, but that’s kind of gone by the wayside. We pierce most everything, it’s perfectly fine with us.”

Customers range in age from 7 on up, to older folks getting their first tattoo or piercing. But the heart of the business is the 18-to-25 college-aged crowd, he said.

Norris also looks forward to being part of the lively Main Street business district, The Bricks in Downtown Hays.

With big plate glass windows onto Main Street, the piercers and tattoo artists can display their work for downtown shoppers. And Blue Light Body Arts will also be a part of special downtown events, particularly the Art Walk, hosted quarterly by the Hays Arts Council.

Norris hopes to showcase his studio’s artists, two of whom are graduates of the Fort Hays State University art program, during Art Walk, when Main Street hosts local art and entertainment.

Perfect location

Norris spent some time finding the right storefront.

“I looked around for about the past five years of getting downtown,” he said. “Everyone sees the revitalization going on. I like it. It gives a really good feel.”

Formerly The Bluetique, a women’s clothing store, the space was the first he looked at. It was one of 18 commercial buildings downtown owned by Plainville businessman Chuck Comeau’s DFC Holdings Inc. Prices were more affordable, Norris said, when he bought the space from Bank of Hays after DFC Holdings’ 2019 bankruptcy.

Now the shop can focus on expanding.

“Tattooing will always be there. That’s just solid,” Norris said, noting the shop has about a 50/50 or 60/40 split of tattooing to piercing.

“We have the college crowd, that stands the test of time, you’re always gonna have kids that want to come in and they want shiny stuff,” he said. “They’re just trying to get different things, what’s not normal in small-town Kansas.”

Norris has spent the last seven years ramping up his jewelry quality, to where now the items in the jewelry case are pretty much all titanium or gold, and from U.S. manufacturers with lifetime warranties on craftsmanship.

“That’s a big selling point,” he said. “We have a little something for everyone. I try to be inclusive with everybody’s budget.”

He hopes to expand the jewelry offerings 25% to 50%, particularly the yellow, rose and white gold section, with a lot of variety in size and price. As for stones, while there are options like synthetic opals, most everything will be cubic zirconia, Norris said. But he also plans to expand into genuine diamonds.

More space

The new location expands the size of the studio from 1,800 square feet to 3,000 square feet on two stories. He also hopes to expand the hours and days of operation.

Piercing will be downstairs, with tattooing upstairs. A spare room downstairs will meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and also serve a makeup artist who applies permanent cosmetics, like eyeliner and eyebrows.

Norris will sell his building at 8th and Vine once the studio moves out. He hopes that will be in April or May.

“There’s quite a bit of work to be done to get it up to state standards for tattoo and piercing establishments,” Norris said. That means no porous floors, so all the carpet came out.

The open space on the ground floor will have wall dividers for individual rooms, each with its own sink.

Upstairs, on the second floor, will be pit-style, with one open room and privacy screens, at the tattooers’ request.

“That’s what they want to do,” he said. “I think they feed off one another artistic-wise and everything else. It’s good for them to see each other’s work daily, and clients can see what other people are doing.”

General contractor for the remodel is Commercial Builders Inc., 2717 Canal Blvd., but Norris will do some of the work too, including installing hardwood floors for a turn-of-the-century look.

“I think that we can tie in well to the other businesses down there,” Norris said. “I want to have a really healthy relationship with everyone there, and everyone I talk to is pretty excited about us coming down.”