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Tattoo artist and Fort Myers native Dawn Webb began her apprenticeship in North Fort Myers at Custom Bike and Body Art in 2007. After owners of the half motorcycle, half tattoo shop moved to Fort Myers Beach in 2011, they told Webb she had a choice to make.  

Webb put in her notice at Radiology Regional Center in March 2012 after working there for more than a decade to take over the tattoo shop by June 2012. 

“At the time, no one knew who I was,” Webb said. “I was in a little corner there. We had no signage, so I just put a surfboard on the roof of my car and parked it up by the road that said, ‘Paradise Tattoo.’ That little surfboard helped me start my customer base.” 

Paradise Tattoo was an award-winning custom tattoo shop on Fort Myers Beach. Years of work on the business were washed away Sept. 28 as Hurricane Ian devastated Fort Myers Beach and destroyed the building.   

“I wasn’t ready,” Webb said. “I knew it was going to be bad. I didn’t want to see it yet. From what I understood, the beach was just completely destroyed. I wasn’t mentally prepared to see my shop gone.”

For her first several years on Fort Myers Beach Webb worked alone, dedicating herself to marketing her and her shop’s name. After four years, she began hiring other artists, creating her dream crew just last year with three other artists. 

Throughout the years, Webb began to see her clientele grow from regular locals to national and global clients, booking appointments a year in advance. 

“Every time they come to Fort Myers Beach on vacation, they won’t get tattooed anywhere else,” Webb said. “It’s a family feel when you come in, you feel like you’re at home or like you’re at my house rather than walking into a cold, sterile shop.” 

Her and her crew have won awards, with Webb also having tattooed celebrities like Lajon Witherspoon, lead singer of rock band Sevendust, and MTV personality Riki Rachtman.  

“I’ve just worked hard over the years to give everyone a very welcoming experience,” Webb said. “I never considered myself the best tattoo artist but people liked the vibe, the energy. As the years went on, I poured my heart and soul and love into this place.” 

On the fourth day following Hurricane Ian before entry to the barrier island was denied, Webb, among others, parked their cars at the foot of the north end of the bridge and began to walk to their businesses.

For Webb, the one-mile trek from the bridge to her shop, confirmed her fears.  

“I already knew it was going to bad when I turned the corner,” Webb said. “It just looked like a warzone.” 

The shop’s front glass was blasted in, along with the back concrete wall of her shop.  

“I had a divider wall in between and it was just wiped out,” Webb said. “It was just all debris and rubble inside, completely unrecognizable.” 

While the shop and its items such as furniture, salon chairs, massage tables and toolboxes were destroyed, the art displayed and tattoo guns were safe, as Webb removed them prior to the storm.  

“I didn’t think the storm was going to do that,” Webb said. “None of us did. I was born and raised here. I’ve been through so many storms. With the storm surge, I just imagined water rising in my shop. I didn’t expect it to be blown out, but something told me to get the art out of there.” 

Despite the destruction of her shop, the relationships Webb had built with her clientele proved to withstand anything. A yearly rock and roll-based cruise called ShipRocked, which Webb frequents and donates artwork for auctions to raise money for cancer, started a GoFundMe for Paradise Tattoo, now less than $300 away from its $10,000 goal. 

The funds raised and already saved will help fund the reopening of a new shop. As far as reopening on Fort Myers Beach, only time will tell for Webb.  

“I would like to reopen on the beach someday, but obviously, that’s going to be a long time,” she said. The plaza owner that Webb’s shop is on plans to rebuild, but her livelihood relies on her shop, as she is currently living off of savings. 

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Webb said. “But I can’t wait.” 

Webb is looking at a location off McGregor Boulevard and Gladiolus Drive in Fort Myers, hoping to reopen within the next two months. Her team has been picking up work at local shops that have extended an invitation to her and her artists until they get back on their feet. 

“I have a lot of shop owners that have offered me to tattoo,” Webb said. “I haven’t been in the right state of mind creatively to tattoo. I have some art projects that I need to work on, I just haven’t been there. I’m getting there, though.” 

Many are suffering with issues with mental health following Hurricane Ian, ultimately effecting the creative process for artists like Webb.  

“It’s been a struggle,” she said. “Some people embrace that and they get super creative. I’ve kind of folded up and have been more business focused, like I need to get my business going. It’s very traumatic, it’s upsetting, depressing, angry, there’s just so many feelings.” 

Prior to the storm, Webb said her creative mode was on almost all the time. 

“I was always thinking about tattoos and people talk to me about tattoos,” she said. “I was in the creative zone a lot, which, as a business owner was difficult because I felt more like a tattoo artist than a businessperson. Now, I’m more driven to get established. I just want my little nest back so I can get in there, get comfortable and start creating again.” 

While Webb slowly gets back into feeling inspired, she anticipates the reopening of Paradise Tattoo. It will house the surfboard that survived Ian, found under rubble, and act as a symbol for new beginnings as it did a decade ago. 

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