It doesn't matter how strong your opinions are. If you don't use your power for positive change, you are indeed part of the problem.”
- Coretta Scott King
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead
By looking for shop space in downtown Westport, Amanda Mas, a young, female tattoo artist, unwittingly subjected herself to criticism belying the postfeminist culture our town proudly espouses.
Online commenters weighed in: “Tattoos especially on women Yuck that’s why there [sic] called tramp stamps.” Real estate agents, despite their lack of epistemic knowledge of the industry, belittled her capability: “Are you sure you can afford rent just by making tattoos?” Others didn’t even ask questions, they simply didn’t want “this kind of business” in their space.
The whole experience just wasn’t Westport. At least, it wasn’t our diverse, open-minded, and accepting Westport.
Of course, she hadn’t factored in this type of derision when she planned her newest venture. After successfully launching her own studio two years ago business proved so successful - men and women scheduled months in advance for a Mas-tat - she decided to go bigger and broader. “I met a lot of ambitious, talented women,” she says, "and I developed this idea to create a unique space with some of them… with a diverse offering of services for tattoo and beauty.”
These offerings were beyond those of a typical salon: tattoos, false eyelashes, body piercings, permanent make-up, and spray tans. Once considered peripheral, even gritty, these service are nudging themselves into the mainstream and the professionals at Rebel & Rose are well positioned to dominate the new beauty frontier.
She already had the shop’s name in mind. “I thought the Rebel (tattoo) Rose (beauty) had a nice flow to it while keeping it simple and sweet. …I wanted to have more of a salon feel but keep it a bit edgy.”
The store had to be in Westport for two reasons: 1. A large number of her clients live here, 2. Westport has never had a tattoo shop and she wanted to create something different “that would be comfortable and welcoming to all guests.”
Unfortunately, her plan to open a welcoming and inclusive shop was made difficult by some unwelcoming gatekeepers.
Meanwhile, Peter Gray, president of Pyramid Real Estate Group, had just acquired 155 Post Road East. He scheduled an appointment with Amanda to view the second floor of his new property and was busily vacuuming the space when she arrived, startling him to a near heart-attack.
After their meeting, Peter recalls, “There was never a question in my mind, with her incredible talent… with her sharp focus and business acumen, that she would be enormously successful.”
Further, he understood an important and often overlooked part of Amanda’s skillset: aureola tattooing. After a terrible accident, a woman in Peter’s life required the reconstruction of an entire breast. To complete the reconstruction, only an adept tattoo artist could make it look realistic. “Adding this touch was very important to her,” Peter explains. “It was healing for her. It allowed her to feel comfortable and whole again.”
After their initial meeting, the good part of the story kicks in.
Because Amanda, with Peter’s support, didn’t just open a liminal business; she also instigated positive change in how downtown Westport does business.
It’s hardly a secret that downtown rents can be cripplingly expensive: vacant storefronts last year made Main Street look like a smile full of cavities. Second story retail was the only solution, the problem being it was rendered illegal Business Center District over 60 years ago, on October 25, 1979.
Traffic and parking, mostly. Fear of congestion and insufficient parking plagued town officials.
(Does anyone recall those halcyon days? When we didn’t have the gridlock and tailback that plague us now? At least we know that a 2nd floor store has nothing on a pandemic-driven urban exodus. I digress, and a special shout-out to the WPD for their respect and understanding that today’s traffic is killing us softly.)
Also, officials then were intent that floors above the first be affordable housing.
Unfortunately, this law alienated entrepreneurs, including Amanda who had worked on RR an entire year before viewing space.
A group of residents learned of her dilemma and took action, including WDMA former president Randy Herbertson, RTM member Sal Liccione, and First Selectwoman Jen Tooker.*
They brought her situation to the attention of P&Z members Mary Young and Danielle Dobin, chair of a Regulatory Revisions Subcommittee (RRS). RRS is focusing on changing regulation to increase the feasibility of vibrant, new businesses, especially start-ups who can’t shoulder first floor rent. Immediately, they began the tricky process of changing the text. Danielle states, “Rather than have the P&Z staff tell Amanda to look in another town, the P&Z Commission opted to change our regulations so that businesses like Amanda's can now open in Westport.”
Amanda waited for weeks with “uncertainty and stress." On February 18, 2022, she sat on her sofa with her dog, watching the Zoning committee meeting on zoom. When second story retail was approved, “I burst into tears.”
A win for Amanda, and a win “for other small businesses… who have dreams of opening up in Westport.”
When they opened, Amanda recounts “We got countless phone calls from men and women of all age groups,” wishing them luck and to say congratulations.
Most memorable was the call from an elderly woman who has lived in Westport for over 40 years. “She felt like this was the coolest store to open in downtown Westport since she has lived here, and loved the fact that it was female-owned and -operated,” Amanda smiles.
And how’s business going? According to Peter, “I don't think I have ever seen a business launch as successfully as Rebel & Rose in Westport.” In fact, any emails to Amanda kick back an auto-reply: With an influx of new inquiries daily, it may take from 3-5 business days for me to get back to you.
Welcome to Westport!
Special thank you to Amanda Trianovich, Planner, P&Z Westport, for her research.