A foreign exchange student at the University of Rhode Island walked into the Shades of Sunderland Tattoo in the Emporium on Tuesday worried about a possible ear infection.  She had the ear pierced the previous summer at a pharmacy in Spain and said she was in pain.  The store’s owner, Bill Sunderland, quickly looked at it, brought her into another room, took the existing earing out, instructed her to let it heal and told her to come back if the infection grew, with no charge.

After she left, Sunderland smiled and said, “And that’s a lot of what I do here, fix other people’s mistakes.”

A second customer who just arrived muttered, “That’s why I’m here.”

Credit: Sampson Jacobs/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Credit: Sampson Jacobs/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

Shades of Sunderland Tattoo is located at the Emporium on top of campus.  Along with piercings, the store also works as a tattoo parlor and a smoke shop.  Over the years, Sunderland has come to the conclusion that tattoo parlors on, or near college campuses give a certain unsafe, unprofessional vibe.   But that’s not the case at Shades of Sunderland Tattoo.

The business opened in 2004 but moved to the spot where it is now – between the Rhode House and CVS – a few years later.  He performs around 24 to 30 tattoos a week, 80 percent of which are for students.  According to their website, the company has a Better Business Bureau A+ rating and of the seven Google reviews, the business earned 4.9 out of five stars

But Sunderland sees the way parents glare at the shop as they walk by.  He understands that three smoke shops located within walking distance of the campus is probably not the image URI would like to portray on tours or orientation day.

“If their children are going to do it anyway, its better to do it at my shop than a non-sterile basement with a high risk of infection,” Sunderland said.  “My place is safe, affordable and I create a relationship with the students that come in.”

Sunderland is able to keep his prices cheap and comparable because of the three different facets of his business.

Credit: Sampson Jacobs/The Good 5 Cent Cigar
Credit: Sampson Jacobs/The Good 5 Cent Cigar

With the amount of students that come to his shop looking for tattoos, Sunderland said the themes have become less generic than years past.  Sure, he still gets the common anchors or other remembrances of Rhode Island, religious themes, quotes and lyrics.  But many students are looking for more profound meanings.  Because of the increase in the industry and the exposure to bad decisions, tattoos have gone from an act of rebellion to modern art.

He recalled a time when a professor at the university came in to look at potential tattoos.  While helping her she said, “You know? With you being on campus, I thought you would have sucked.”

“I let my work speak for itself,” Sunderland said.  “I got talents.  It’s all I do.  Every day, it’s all I have done for years.  I am always at this place.”