Hamilton tattoo shop expects return despite COVID-19 closure and devastating fire

Police have charged a 32-year-old man with multiple counts of arson after he allegedly set several fires in downtown Hamilton on April 21, 2020. Grey Harbour Tattoo studio was destroyed in one of the blazes. Lisa Polewski / Global News

The co-owner of Grey Harbour Tattoo studio says he doesn’t want to let his supporters down and plans to bring back a “better” shop as soon as Hamilton’s economy re-opens, after it was closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“At this point, I think just seeing the impact from the community supporting us and is what’s keeping us so positive to the point where, like, you know what, we can’t let the community down.”

Thomas Penny’s semi-private studio which has been in the heart of Hamilton’s art district on James St North for five years took a double hit in late April, after a fire gutted his business already closed down by provincial orders tied to COVID-19.

Hamilton police charged a 32-year-old man with multiple arson-related offences after he allegedly set three downtown businesses on fire, April 21.

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Police say the first of them was set around 7 p.m. at La Bichette, a clothing store at 161 James Street North. The fire then quickly spread to the second floor of the same building and the neighbouring Grey Harbour Tattoo Parlour.


Minutes later, the same suspect allegedly set another fire out front of Born and Raised Restaurant on James Street, which was quickly extinguished by officers arriving on scene.

Penny says he heard about the restaurant fire first from partner and pal Rob Vino who forwarded a picture of a partially burnt Born and Raised on the night of the fire.

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Not long after, he received a call from Vino saying the building with their studio was on fire.

“I seemed confused because it was like, I’m looking at a picture of Born or Raised. There’s no way. We’re a block away from them,” Penny said.

After a 10-minute drive to the scene, Penny was able to see it all for himself.

“It almost seemed a little bit surreal.”


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After the last of the flames were knocked down, Hamilton fire assessed damage to the building at about $100,000.

Penny believes he lost more than that, though, as much of his personal artwork in the form of small posters by his work station were destroyed.

“My station was all originals. I lost like 99 per cent of them,” said Penny after the fire marshal allowed he and Vino back into the studio.

The blaze was just one more hit on the financially-strapped business, already shut down on March 21 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Penny says he and Vino were already in a “state of panic” wondering how they would get through the next few months struggling with bills and paying their commercial lease during a closure.

Grey Harbour employs the two co-owners and three contact workers and as such does not qualify for assistance under the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

“Even myself and Rob are all kind of subcontractors working together. So we just share the space and ensure the bills get paid together. So the business itself wouldn’t qualify for any loans,” said Penny.

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The studio did have insurance, but being cash-strapped with the government shutdown, Penny says they had to take on a new policy with financing, which quickly hit its cap after their adjuster did a walkthrough following the fire.

Penny was told much of the contents of the studio would not be covered by the $25,000 limit.


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Today we got to see first hand, the extent of the fire. It’s left us speechless and heartbroken. The support and response from everyone has literally been our driving force to push forward and keeping a positive mindset. Our good friend @brockryantattooer has set up a gofundme page for the shop which I’ll post the link to in our info. I’ve never been the type to not put in work for anything, or look for handouts, but this has caught us at the worst possible time, and sometimes you have to understand you can’t do it alone. This for sure has made us realize we aren’t alone. So feel free to help in any way you can, whether it’s to share the link, or page, or simple just tell a friend. Anything to help each other is how we will get through this and come out better and stronger than ever. Thank you again to our first responders, who definitely helped keep this from being a total catastrophe for the whole block. Also, please keep an eye on our friends @lovelabichette as well for any way we can support them through this tough time. Thank you, GH

A post shared by Grey Harbour (@greyharbourtattoo) on


“Just between myself and the actual business, in the sense of like our couch and computers, and I’m at $18,000,” said Penny. “We’re definitely, I guess, under-covered.”

Despite all the setbacks, Grey Harbour is set to make a comeback when non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen, according to Penny

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Much of the help for that dream is a GoFundMe campaign, set up by a friend of the business, which has now reached about 70 per cent of it’s $25,000 goal as of April 27.

It’s a gesture that Penny sees as a sign to keep the business going beyond the five-year mark.

“We have to rebuild. We have to come back better, stronger and show that we’re not going to let them down.

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