Piercing Emporium owner Marc Williams has been piercing everything from babies’ ears to grown men’s eyebrows since the 1990s. When Massachusetts put regulations in place surrounding body art in 2000, his shop was the first in the city to obtain a state safety certification, and the studio on Shrewsbury Street has been thriving ever since. Last Call sat down with Williams to talk about the piercing industry, the trends that have swept through it over the years, and the popular misconceptions that surround it.
I was born and raised in Worcester. I live in Auburn now, but I grew up in the Grafton Hill area. I'm 46, been here my whole life. I've operated the business here going on 27 years now. It started on Plantation Street and moved to Shrewsbury Street in 1999, and we've been here ever since. Hygienic Ear Piercing
Most piercers were pierced by someone else, found it interesting and wanted to learn more about it. The person who did my piercing did an eyebrow piercing on me. I found it fascinating and wanted to know more, and I did an apprenticeship under that person for a year and a half. I went out to New York to a company called Gauntlet. Jim Ward is the founder, and he brought modern body piercing to the west side of the planet. Gauntlet taught accelerated body piercing and more education in body piercing, so I went out there, took a seminar there, and came back.
I've been piercing since 1995, so four years before the regulations. You were basically on your own in trying to keep it as hygienic and informative as possible and trying to inform clients of everything you knew and the best practices. There weren't a lot of outlets because the internet wasn't massive at that point in time. We did the soccer moms' navels at that point in time, when it was very taboo for them to have it. I was piercing little children's ears. All walks of life were coming in, people who just wanted to learn more about it and people who were already educated in it. I have a client who I've been working on and off with since 1995, and he has been following the industry since 1975.
There really were no laws. I tried working with the mayor of Worcester at the time and he didn't want to tackle it. He didn't want any of it. I tried to work with him to draw some type of regulations to it. When Massachusetts was granted permission to do tattooing and they were writing up the regulations for body piercing, the president of the Association of Professional Piercers came out here, and her and I went to one of the first meetings where they were talking about what types of regulations they were going to put in around body piercing and tattooing. Nobody wanted to touch it.
When I first started, there was nothing in color, nothing with gems. Everything was just a silver ring or a silver barbell, and when I say silver, I mean the color. Everything was made out of stainless steel. Then titanium came into play, and titanium was able to be anodized into colors. Even our most basic jewelry didn't have a gem in it, and now everything has a gem.
When it comes to technique and tools, the operation of the needle has drastically changed. The way that needles are manufactured and how they're designed to go through the body with greatest of ease, where back in the day, they were more abrupt and more discomfort was caused.
We still have all walks of life. I still pierce everyone from infants to attorneys to judges to doctors to our everyday train hoppers that come into the studio every now and then. I will pierce someone's child's ears, and they will come in as an adult to get their child's ears pierced, so I'm doing multiple generations. With parents becoming more and more educated about how a gun piercing is unsanitary and painful, we have a lot more kids coming in. With multiple piercers coming in every day, we can pierce both ears at the same time, which makes it much easier and more comfortable for them.
In the '90s and early 2000s, it was a lot of navels and tongues and eyebrows. Nostrils and ear cartilage are the very prominent and more popular piercings, especially where more jobs allow piercings and allow people to get whatever they want. We're doing more septums than I've ever done. The jewelry is what's pushing that, because the design of jewelry is getting more elaborate and beautiful, so people are more into getting something that they can show off more.
I think what surprises people the most when they come into our studio is the cleanliness and the amount of jewelry that they see. They come in and anticipate very few options. Some people still have the idea that it's the back of a tattoo studio hidden somewhere. I have dentists that come in and when they see our sterilization room, they're in awe. I think that's where people become in awe of how far this industry has come and how seriously we take things, especially how seriously we take our sterilization.
I'd like people to take more time in thinking about this industry. Erase the taboo, be a little more open minded. Some people get this for the beauty or for therapy. It's something that's been around for thousands of years. Statues of Buddha have their ears stretched and pierced. For people that are already excited about getting it done, do a lot of research and educate yourself. Go to safepiercing.org, which is the Association of Professional Piercers' website. It has a lot of really good information for prior to going to a studio, and on how to find a studio and what to look for.
I pierced a little girl's ears when she was 3, and I did one ear and she was very scared and didn't want to do the second. Her dad brought her in a week later to do the second, and about a week later, I received a thank you card. Like most little kids, the parent wrote the "Thank You" on it and the kid drew squid people, octopus people, with earrings. I held onto that card for years. This was in 1996. She came back in when she was 18 and said, "You might not remember me, but you pierced my ears when I was 3." I recognized the girl right away and we started talking, and I went into my office and grabbed that thank you card and showed her. She's an artist now. I pierced her ear cartilage and she sent me a postcard with a thank you, and the postcard had one of her artworks on it. She still comes in every now and then to get something done.
Different Body Piercings Piercing Emporium is located at 205 Shrewsbury St. in Worcester.