By Gaige Davila
Twenty six years after learning to tattoo on South Padre Island, Raul Arevalo has returned with a purpose: to open an “old school” tattoo shop on the Island, reminiscent of the several shops he’s opened or owned around the world and the shops that predate them.
“Now, at 50 years old, it’s time to come back and open my own shop,” Arevalo said. “It was time to come home.”
Arevalo, for the last three years, has owned Eastend Tattoos in Austin, on 5th Street, attached to the Yellow Jacket Social Club, in a quiet, but busy, side of East Austin. Previously, he’s opened shops in Norway and Denmark, and owned a shop in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico for 12 years, intermittently visiting the Island and sitting in at Peggy’s Tattoos, which he also helped open.
His new shop, Seven Sparrows Tattoo, perches above Amberjack Street, within the crossroads of Padre Boulevard. Across the street, at 2500 Padre Boulevard, is where Raul Arevalo learned to tattoo, with “Harpoon” Barry Welch, the first tattoo artist on South Padre Island. Arevalo’s business partner and the shop’s co-owner, Phil Moskal, also apprenticed under Welch.
Above the door in Seven Sparrows Tattoo is one of Welch’s surfboards, which Arevalo placed as the base of a memorial to his friends who’ve died. Welch, along with his wife, Chelsea, who “Harpoon” Barry taught to tattoo alongside him at their shop, were two of the eight who died in the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway collapse in 2001.
The shop’s name is a memorial, too, immortalizing the seven sparrows Arevalo tattooed on his late friend Dennis “Rojo” Dicker’s neck for crossing the seven seas.
Around the shop, there are numerous paintings of ships and Old Men of the Sea, collected from Arevalo’s travels. Bert Grim and Tom Berg flash adorn the gray walls, fixed between taxidermy and antiques. The theme is similar to Eastend Tattoos’, with both shops reflecting Arevalo’s love for the old, the antique and original tattoo culture.
“I want to bring back the old school, sailor tattoo shop,” Arevalo said. “No one’s done this down here. And local, we all grew up here.”
We being he, Moskal and Sam Lee Woods, the latter two also growing up in the Valley. Moskal owns Ol Skool Tattoo in Brownsville, and Woods, who grew up in Harlingen, is a professional skateboarder with Plan B and tattoos out of Eastend Tattoos with Arevalo. Both will be tattooing out of Seven Sparrows Tattoo.
Arevalo will be tattooing back and forth between Austin and the Island, spending more time in the latter.
“I love (Austin), but I’m missing the beach and my family,” he said. “It’s going to be fun going back and forth.”
Seven Sparrows Tattoo opens March 1.