Tattoo Artist Matt Stebly on a mission to bring his art to downtown Ocean Springs
OCEAN SPRINGS -- Matt Stebly dreamed of having a downtown tattoo studio, but he never thought he would find a double corner lot on Government Street.
"I wanted to be in downtown Ocean Springs in general. Both of my parents grew up a few blocks down the road," Stebly said. Shearwater Pottery -- about a mile away, closer to the beach -- is where you'll find other limbs of his family tree.
"It's the best location I could ask for," Stebly said. "I never thought I would have a location like this."
If the space would have been available in March 2012 -- when the artist first opened Twisted Anchor Tattoo Gallery in St. Martin -- he said it would not have been financially possible to call the busiest street in downtown home. The money just wasn't there.
But he worked diligently at his station, tattooing countless hours, taking guest spots in shops around the world and creating his own convention -- Due South Tattoo Expo -- that brings artists and clients to Biloxi from around the world.
Four years later, Stebly stood in the art gallery of the soon-to-be Government Street studio on Sunday and looked out the window, saying the sod would arrive for the front lawn on Tuesday. His son, Anderson, 2, trotted about, letting out roaring sounds and kissing his father on the leg.
There is still lots to be done before the grand opening on Thursday. The paint is dry, the custom hardwood floors are in, and most of the light fixtures are hung in place. The pipes that will hold T-shirts and other retail merchandise need to be installed. The benches in the waiting area still need cabinets and fabric. The counter is there, but it needs glass. It's crunch time for Stebly, but he said on Sunday that he'll be ready to open in four days.
"I'm stress-excited," he said. "I'm ready for it to be done."
The road to Government Street has been winding and quite bumpy, Stebly said. He was approached about renting the 1,000 square-feet house in November 2014. The next month, Stebly decided he was ready to transition to downtown.
He enlisted the help of best friend and contractor John Austin Maugh, owner of Maugh Construction, to start renovating the space. They thought it would take about four months, working around their normal day jobs, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Stebly would often post #teamnosleep on Instagram and Facebook.
"We thought were just going to put lipstick on a pig, but the more we tore into it, the more termite damage we found," Maugh said. "And that's how it all started. And that's how I fell through the floor."
Maugh said it's rare for termites to cause heavy damage to oak, but he fell through the floor twice, prompting he and Stebly to check out the beams underneath. They were rotten also. Maugh and Stebly stripped the floor out until they saw the concrete foundation.
And that's when the renovation essentially became a rebuild.
"We had to hire a small team," said Gina Stebly, Matt's wife.
What was supposed to take four months took more than triple the time and workforce. Stebly also built an 800-square-feet addition to the back of the space which is where his artists will tattoo. There is a separate room for piercing and permanent cosmetics. Track lights line the ceiling near the east wall, where an art gallery will add another element to the studio.
"Everything's brand new except for the chimney and the chain wall," Maugh said. "Literally everything -- the plumbing, the electrical, the air conditioning units."
Stebly has invested $150,000 cash into his new studio.
"We'll have a lot more room for the artists we have," Stebly said, as well as spots for visiting tattoo artists.
Stebly ran into problems with the city in 2015, when previous zoning laws prevented a tattoo shop in that area of Government Street. But city leaders voted in June -- after Stebly was first denied the variance by the city Planning Commission -- to change zoning laws to allow tattoo shops in an additional commercial zone.
Sure, he could have just moved a couple of blocks, but that house is where Stebly wanted to be, and he did not want to back down.
Gina Stebly said she is more cautious than her other half, but she's glad he took the risk.
"I never wanted him to throw in the towel on this one," she said. "He's very determined."
Twisted Anchor in downtown opens on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with the Backs To The Wall art show. 30 artists will submit pieces of painted backs. Food and beverages will be provided to guests.
"I wanted to have an event to open the space," Stebly said. "An art show in my opinion is the best way to do it."