A neon sign flashes in the window, masked by a cloud of cigarette smoke. The door opens and slams shut, taking in eager customers and releasing its satisfied patrons who proudly display their new gallery of ink. Inside, artwork is taking place, as Jeremy McDaniel bears down on his newest masterpiece.
Twelve years ago, Needlz-N-Ink Tattoo Shop opened its doors. Owners Debra and Cory Swarthout gave tattoo artist Jeremy McDaniel his first real job and taught him how to tattoo.
“Debra and Cory were like a second set of parents to me. They took me in when they didn’t have to,” Jeremy says.
But beginning in 2009, Jeremy would soon begin to understand the pain of loss, as Cory Swarthout passed away. Cory and Debra’s middle son passed away in 2010 and youngest son in 2012. In 2014, Debra’s mother passed away.
“Debra went through so much, but she was a servant through it all. She helped everyone that she could. Her car, her house—those important things—she just gave them away. I think being a servant to others helped her get through the rough stuff. She just focused on helping people,” Jeremy explains.
Debra Swarthout passed away from a stroke on June 15, 2015 and Needlz-N-Ink was forced to close its doors (due to insurance policies, the shop could not continue working under the same name). Debra passed away on a Monday, and the following week the former Needlz-N-Ink was completely cleaned out and revamped.
“The first day we started working at the shop, I posted on my Facebook page that we could use some help,” Jeremy says. “Within 10 minutes, people were here. Each of the four days that we worked, there were anywhere from 6-15 people working 10-11 hours a day, cleaning, painting, landscaping, moving furniture. About 99% of the work done within those four days was volunteer work by the good people in this community.”
Jeremy also adds that the landlords, sisters Bonnie Williams and Carol Hall, worked with them so that the shop could stay in the same location.
After two weeks of shutting down Needlz-N-Ink and restoring the shop, Brothers’ Keeper tattoo parlor opened its doors to the public on July 1, 2015. Although it was chosen for its biblical implications, the new name was really inspired by Debra.
Now, Brothers’ Keeper has a team of two tattoo artists, Jeremy McDaniel and Randy Flores, as well as a piercer, Kyle Abbott. Jeremy’s wife Ashley McDaniel handles the shop’s business.
“We want this studio to be something positive in the community. A place where you can come for a tattoo, or just drop by to say hello,” Jeremy expresses.
Longtime client Austin Mansell plans to start a church small group that will meet at Brothers’ Keeper on Monday nights to do bible study.
“Brothers’ Keeper is going to be a family-oriented place, an environment with positive vibes. Somewhere that kids don’t have to worry about plugging their ears. We’re excited to be able to contribute to this community and to be a part of the good things going on,” Jeremy says.
Twelve years after its first opening, this tattoo shop is getting a fresh start, thanks to numerous members of the Jasper community. “I think people need to know that there are still good people here, people that are not afraid to put forth effort to help others, just out of kindness and good faith. We’ve been blessed with so much support and help—its outrageous,” Jeremy says with a smile. 78
***The restoration of the tattoo shop and the opening of Brothers’ Keeper would not have been possible without the help of the following people: Ashley McDaniel, Kyle Abbott, Mark and Melissa Short and their daughters Savannah and Raven Short, Paul and Audrie Borden, as well as countless others in the community.
Photos by Blakeney Cox