On November 2nd, 1961, the day after tattooing was officially illegal in New York City, deVita opened his first shop. He was living on 8th Street, near Avenue D. An infamously rough neighborhood, “Alphabet City,” at that time, was the kind of area you generally didn’t visit unless you had a good reason to. He tattooed mostly working class people from the neighborhood, and tough guys that other tattooers didn’t want to tattoo. He opened around an hour after dawn, and would close by three or four o’clock in the afternoon, seven days a week. It was the time of day that the tough guys and miscreants were on their best behavior, so it kept problems to a minimum.
One time, Tony Polito stopped by and saw some of the same rough characters he was tattooing in Brooklyn sitting around deVita’s shop quietly reading National Geographic, with classical music playing, and he was astounded. DeVita used to tell people that he woke up at first light, and he slept near the front window, so as long as it was light, you could call his name quietly and he would open up. But if it was still dark, you better not come back until he forgot your face. He had an erratic approach toward age restrictions. One Irish kid from uptown got both his arms completely covered from deVita, and when he turned eighteen, Thom refused to tattoo him anymore. “Now you can get tattooed by anyone.” He told one Italian kid that he didn’t believe the kid was old enough, and next time to come back wearing a fake mustache. The kid came back a month later, and Thom didn’t even question his age, but the kid had the fake mustache in his back pocket.
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