Family fun, edgy twist

Michael Gabriel, a sales rep at Oxygen, a tattoo parlor on the Wildwood boardwalk that's known for its hookah paraphernalia.
Michael Gabriel, a sales rep at Oxygen, a tattoo parlor on the Wildwood boardwalk that's known for its hookah paraphernalia. (ED HILLE / Staff)
Posted: July 06, 2014


The Wildwood boardwalk is many things to many people, but never dull. "Sun's out, guns out" says one T-shirt blaring from the ubiquitous shops. "Bro do you even lift," insults another shirt. But the cool kids seem to be hanging around such places as Oxygen, an emporium of slightly naughty but increasingly socially acceptable activities: tattoos, hennas, piercing, braiding, pendanting, and resupplying yourself with hookah and vaporizing paraphernalia.

While T-shirt shop owners demur at any discussion of their merchandising strategies, Michael Gabriel, 24, an eight-year veteran of the Wildwood tattoo parlor scene who speaks of his industry as if he's participating in a Wharton seminar, steps right up.

Question: So what do you do here?

Gabriel: My position is sales rep. I oversee sales of body piercings, henna tattoos, hair braiding. We sell pendants. We also sell regular tattoos. I was working for another henna stand down the boardwalk, and we weren't doing so good for business. And so when I clocked out, I left and I ended up coming over here. They asked me to do a henna, and I've been here ever since.

Q: Do you have artistic talent?

Gabriel: I don't really like to brag. I'm good, but there are people who are a lot better than me.

Q: Tell me about the hookah thing; that's become very popular.

Gabriel: Well, hookahs have been around for a very, very long time. We specialize in scents, multiples, aromatics. We sell accessories: full hookahs, hookah pieces like tubes. We have trays that hold multiple tobaccos with different flavors. On some occasions, depending on how well they're doing, we'll order hand-crafted hookahs from Egypt. They can vary from $150 to $1,000, depending on the style.

Q: Have you sold a $1,000 hookah on the Wildwood Boardwalk?

Gabriel: I've never sold a $1,000 hookah. The most I've sold is about $250 for one of our bigger ones, multiple hoses on it.

Q: So people buy a hookah and go home to use it. It's not a hookah bar.

Gabriel: Yes. They just tap into the places at home. It's really windy up here, so trying to light a hookah would be tough.

Q: What do you think people in Wildwood talk about around the hookah?

Gabriel: It's more of a symbol and time of peace.

Q: How about the vaporizers? What's that all about?

Gabriel: The vaporizers are pretty much the same as e-cigs. We do have vaporizers that specialize in multiple forms of tobacco uses. We have ones for dry tobacco, for liquid tobaccos.

Q: Vapes are popular for marijuana, also. (In fact, authorities raided an unrelated hookah store this week in Atlantic City for peddling cannabis-like liquids out of vaporizer pens.)

Gabriel: That is true, you know. But it's not what they're for. They're designed to help you quit smoking. It's more harsh to smoke a cigarette. With the vapors, the carcinogens and pathogens are all extracted, it's more of a healthier way of smoking a cigarette.

Q: Do you think some people are a little afraid of your shop? It looks a little intense.

Gabriel: Some families think it is a bit much. We have to go where the business is.

Q: Tattoos and piercings have been a pretty reliable business here.

Gabriel: We own the only two tattoo shops in Wildwood. Getting the permits, certificates needed to open up a tattoo shop is very, very hard. You have to have specific safety precautions.

Q: I'm surprised there are just two on the boardwalk.

Gabriel: In all honesty, putting a tattoo shop on the boardwalk, in general, is just a really good idea. Tourist towns thrive off people who want to experience something new. They see a tattoo shop on the boardwalk, they say, 'Oh, let's see what they have.' They think it's a bit exhilarating.

Q: What do you think about the rest of the boardwalk - how's it looking in Wildwood?

Gabriel: In my years, I've definitely seen the boardwalk change a lot. It depends on how you view it. There's more T-shirt shops than anything. The majority of places try to keep it as PG as possible. Other places don't care. We're definitely different. We specialize in quality materials and quality equipment. We have excellent employees and clientele. All of our stuff is on point.

Q: What about the braiding? That's a real island thing.

Gabriel: The braiding has been around for a long time. We change up our (mannequin) heads every day, our heads on display. We'll clean them up, rebraid them. It's just really good advertising.

Q: Do you get any pressure on the store not being family friendly enough?

Gabriel: Sometimes people do think we're not as family friendly just because of the things floating around in the store, the hookahs and stuff. We try to be as family friendly as possible. We specialize in things for little kids, like henna tattoos and wraps.

Q: You wouldn't think a family could walk into a hookah or vape shop.

Gabriel: We're not always pushing vaporizers and hookahs on the people. That just depends on what the customers want. We try to keep the kids over here in that area. We don't want to distract the artists.

(Interview condensed and edited.)



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