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Capitol Hill’s Laughing Buddha ready to turn 20 under new owner

As its 20th anniversary on Capitol Hill approaches, the Laughing Buddha tattoo and piercing shop in Broadway Alley is undergoing some changes including new ownership and plans for a renovation.

After an invitation from the property owners to start a tattoo parlor in the odd Broadway mall, Michelle Hamilton originally opened the shop in 1996. Christy Brooker, owner of Damask Tattoo in Queen Anne, purchased Laughing Buddha from Hamilton last year and is ready to take the shop into its next decade.

“I want to create a welcoming and calm space here,” said Brooker. “We will be completely remodeling the whole space, creating a much more modern feel over the next one-to-two years.”

12697335_10154574569204966_7521201116336530_oBrooker said she plans to keep Laughing Buddha open throughout the remodel and only close off parts of the studio as they are updated.

Born and raised in Missoula, MT, Brooker began tattooing in 1999 because she wanted to have a career in art without becoming a teacher or graphic artist. “I wanted to make a living off art without being behind a desk and working for someone else,” said Brooker. “Tattooing seemed like the perfect combination between making a living and having a lot of freedom.”

After moving to Seattle in 2001, Brooker tattooed for the now-closed Apocalypse Tattoo, which was located on E Olive Way. In 2009, she opened Damask, an appointment-only tattoo shop in Queen Anne. With ownership of a second shop, Brooker is no longer tattooing in order to focus on the businesses, which she said has become her new passion.

Laughing Buddha has six full-time tattooers and two full-time piercers. Though Brooker advises booking a consultation appointment, with a full staff, Laughing Buddha is usually able to accommodate walk-ins.

Through its 20 years, the Buddha has seen plenty of changes in the industry even as the alternative cultures around the art form have shifted. “It’s evolved over time, just like anything else,” Brooker said. With advances in equipment, tattooing has “been made more efficient and attention to cleanliness has improved,” and clients have the ability to inform themselves with the use of the Internet.

“It’s also much easier to get design ideas and come up with reference for custom tattoos,” she said. “People are generally more informed about the process due to availability of information and the rise in tattoo popularity.”

Tattooing remains a robust part of the Capitol Hill beauty economy with at least seven dedicated shops and and equal number of appoint-only, or small-scale studios active in the area.

For the Laughing Buddha’s 20th anniversary, Brooker said the shop will be hosting a big party at a nearby watering hole. Watch for details soon. The specifics of where the name for the shop came from have been lost to history, however, so if you know, stop by the shop and help fill in the historical record of 1990s Broadway.

And, in case you were wondering, Brooker has tattooed herself. While training a couple apprentices, she tattooed a heart on one knee and a strawberry on the other. She said it was an interesting experience, because, although it feels like the needle is going deeper than you think, it may have barely touched the skin.

Laughing Buddha is located at 219 Broadway E inside the Broadway Alley. You can learn more at


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