WINNIPEG -- Despite code red restrictions being extended, the droning hum of a tattoo gun could be heard inside of The Parlor Tattoos on Saturday.

Phil McLellan opened his Main Street tattoo shop on the morning of January 9, even though public health orders say it's not allowed to.

"You want to go along and get along, but at some point, you have to take a stand," he said. "We're being ground down by arbitrary government decisions that say, 'you can work, you can work, but you can't.'"

Tattooing for most of his life, McLellan opened The Parlor Tattoos six years ago. He said these last few months have been the hardest.

"Everyone should have a nest egg of three months, but we've doubled that," McLellan said. "I'm barely making it."

McLellan claims his business isn't eligible for most relief programs because of his low payroll. 

"Whether it was by design or not, the government has left most small businesses out of the ability to access any of the finances they rolled out," he said.

However, McLellan did receive $5000 from the Bridge Grant.

"While I'm greatly appreciative there was something, my rent here is $3200 a month, McLellan said. "It barely covered my bills here, but it doesn't cover any of my living expenses."

While worried about the fine, McLellan said he's more worried about his family of four.

"I have to worry about fines after I worry about feeding my family," he said.

McLellan claims enforcement officers did visit and told him he was breaking the Public Health Act. He was not issued a formal warning or fine. 

A spokesperson for the province said enforcement officers do have some level of discretion, depending on the situation. They said any additional information would be included in the province's enforcement updates, which are issued on Tuesdays.


McLellan believes tattooing can be done safely during the pandemic.

When a customer comes in, McLellan quizzes them about travel, COVID-19 symptoms and close contacts.

After a quick squirt of hand sanitizer, the masked customer gets their tattoo.

McLellan says tattoo artists are experts at sanitizing. 

"We've been doing that all along because we work with blood born pathogens," he said. "We can deal with HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, but we can't deal with COVID-19?"

If a COVID-19 case was found inside the store, McLellan claims all he'd need to do is check the mandatory release forms to let people know.

"We have release forms that clients have to fill out that are contact tracing methods," he said.

McLellan said he doesn't understand why people would call out a small business for opening.

"It's mind-boggling that someone would shame someone for trying to earn a living," McLellan said.