Business of the year, Canalside Tattoo, honored for expansion, community service

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 October 2022 at 9:42 am

Owner Shawn Ramsey strives for fun atmosphere, creative staff

Photos by Tom Rivers: Shawn Ramsey, owner of Canalside Tattoo, stands in the side of the building where Canalside clothing and merchandise are available, as well as other items created by artisans and other vendors in Western New York. He said there are 600 different items for sale. Ramsey tries to create a unique atmosphere, including the display of “Hannah,” a hammerhead shark and “Goose Wayne.”

MEDINA – When the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce announced Canalside Tattoo as the Chamber’s business of the year for 2022, Chamber director Darlene Hartway acknowledged there was some pushback.

Some people wondered how a tattoo shop, on Medina’s bustling Main Street, stood out among so many other businesses.

Hartway said Canalside, owned by Shawn Ramsey, brings an energy to the downtown. The business has steadily been expanding, frequently hosts community benefits and has created a welcoming atmosphere, while winning over naysayers.

“They have grown so much,” Hartway said. “They are active in the community. They are active in fundraisers. When you go in, it feels like a family. Shawn is a wonderful person.”

Ramsey said some people, including a village official, initially were concerned when he moved Canalside to the former Curvin’s News & Smoke Shop at 540 Main St. But that official now sees Canalside as a Main Street attraction, rather than a detriment, viewing Canalside much like a salon with a focus on cleanliness and comfort.

Photo by VarukaBlue Photography: The Canalside Tattoo team includes, from left: Andrew London, Megan Furness, James Christian, Maisie Griffin, Shawn Ramsey, CJ Cruickshank, Tyler VerCruysse, Allison Stanton and Matthew Rolfe. Missing from is Amanda Falker, the studio manager who also took this photo.

Ramsey, 47, opened Canalside in Medina in 2015. Initially he was the lone tattoo artist in a 700-square-foot space on East Center Street. The 1993 Medina graduate came back to Medina after working 18 years as a graphic artist in Pittsburgh.

Ramsey has a degree from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He started his career with a sign company and then worked in web design and software development. He also was a tattoo artist his last 12 years in Pittsburgh.

“I was having a successful design career in Pittsburgh,” Ramsey said. “But I didn’t get a lot of personal satisfaction. This allows me to be part of our little town and on main Street and work with people on a one-on-one basis.”

“Blue” or the “Medina-saur” is on the wall on the side of the business where the tattoo artists work. The dinosaur was created by Rashad Santiago of Batavia, who makes props for movies. He also made a Triceratops head that is part of the Canalside experience.

Canalside proved popular in Medina. After two years, Ramsey moved the business to the former Curvin’s site on Main Street with 2,500 square feet. Each year he has typically added a tattoo artist. Canalside now has six full-time tattoo artists, two piercers, and two other support staff that manage the office and a gift shop with Canalside clothing and products from artisans in Western New York.

Canalside expanded next to Curvin’s and now has 4,000 square feet. That gives more room for the merchandise, as well a private room for tattoos, a “selfie wall” and more wall space items Ramsey finds to make Canalside a fun environment. He has a hammerhead shark mounted on the wall, as well as two dinosaur heads made by Rashad Santiago of Batavia, who makes props for movies. Ramsey also has Star Wars figurines on the shelves, bowling trophies from the 1960s from the former Ranallo’s Lanes in Medina, and a giant skeleton that greets people at the front door.

Canalside is decorated for Halloween year-round and really embraces the holiday during October.

But Ramsey said it’s about bringing people into a fun atmosphere, that is clean and comfortable.

He sees customers become empowered with a tattoo, leaving with added confidence.

“We’re incredibly open to all walks of life,” he said. “We are very accepting.”

Tattoos are widely accepted, and many of the Canalside customers come back again and again. About two thirds of the customers are women. People want tattoos to celebrate milestones – a wedding, a graduation, a new child, even the success of the Buffalo Bills. They also seek a tattoo in a time of mourning to honor a loved one.

Many of the Canalside customers just want to express their individuality with tattoos, Ramsey said.

“It’s been growing in popularity,” he said about tattoos. “The younger generations are drawn to tattoos as a way to stand out.”

He has seen how the quality of the artwork has improved dramatically with vibrant colors lasting much longer. There are better tattoo machines, and needles and pigments, he said. The Ink Master television show also has helped showcase the talents of tattoo artists, Ramsey said.

Shawn Ramsey is shown with a 12-foot-high skeleton near the entrance of Canalside. The skeleton has blinking eyes. Ramsey named the skeleton “Gray Skelley” after Grace Kelly. Ramsey said Canalside is decorated year-round for Halloween.

Canalside is fortunate to have talented artists who connect with customers, Ramsey said.

“We hire based on personality,” he said. “We look for warm, friendly and motivated.”

Ramsey and his staff brainstorm community service projects, and look for ways to build their camaraderie, including Friday Night Flights, a monthly paper airplane competition where the paper size and type change. The Canalside team also has gone apple picking together and competed in ax throwing.

Ramsey has embraced community fundraising efforts including an annual toy drive, tattoo challenges for different causes, a “Medina Strong” campaign to benefit the local hospital during the early days of Covid, and a fundraiser this spring that raised $10,000 for Cat by Cat Inc. That paid for care for feral cats in the community. The cats were spayed or neutered, and also vaccinated and given flea medications.

The Chamber will present the “Business of the Year” and other awards on Thursday during a celebration at the White Birch in Lyndonville.