Gilbert isn't known for a proliferation of tattoo and body-piercing studios, pawnshops, check cashing outlets, hookah bars, unlicensed massage parlors and other businesses that many people look askance at.
This isn't because the town has created a bunch of rules on these uses that makes it difficult for them to open; with the exception of tattoo and piercing studios, none of these are required to be a certain distance from schools, churches, day-care centers or each other.
So the Town Council is currently debating what, if anything, should be done to regulate these businesses.
Councilwoman Linda Abbott first raised the issue two months ago and tackled the topic again at their Tuesday meeting, generally agreeing to look further into the issue but not on whether more rules need to be adopted.
"There are regulation in other communities, whether its through their codes or whatever," Abbott said. "Gilbert was wide open in its regulations for most of these (businesses)."
Abbott said she favors limiting how close these businesses can move near existing schools in particular, and she knows some of her students at Mesquite High School have gotten into hookah lounges while underage.
But she bristled when Councilman Steve Urie suggested the ultimate goal of the discussion was to shut these kinds of business out of Gilbert.
Mayor Steve Berman said this could easily be the end result. He said Gilbert passed tough restrictions on adult bookstores back in 1990 when the town was much smaller.
"Now we're over 200,000 and guess what, there are no adult bookstores in Gilbert," he said.
Other council members said they wanted more information about the regulations other East Valley cities have in place. But, they said, they weren't convinced many such businesses would come into town and that most of Gilbert's schools aren't close to the commercial corners where they could be built.
"It seems to me we're trying to solve a problem that doesn't and probably won't exist," Urie said.
Councilman Don Skousen said he didn't think it would be right for the town to impose any restrictions tougher than the 300-foot distance limit on state liquor licenses, but he thought the topic warranted more discussion.
"I never want to see in Gilbert what you see between Country Club and Stapley along Broadway, I don't want to see that replicated in any shape or form," he said, referring to that stretch of Broadway Road in Mesa.
The council will likely revisit the topic at one of the next few meetings.
Mesa actually has stricter zoning rules on the books for tattooing and piercing studios, pawnshops and check-cashers than Gilbert, according to a Gilbert staff report. All must obtain a council use permit and are subject to separation requirements from schools and churches.
A search of Gilbert phone listings turns up no pawn shops or check cashers. Hookah bars are such a foreign concept that town planner Mike Milillo had to educate himself about the Middle Eastern glass water pipes and how they are used to smoke flavored tobacco, generally in lounges.
The art and business of tattooing and body piercing have begun to make some inroads into Gilbert, where they are allowed in several commercial zoning areas as long as they are at least 500 feet away from schools, churches or day-care centers.
Byron Winkelman has been a tattoo artist for 18 years and opened his Lotus Blossom Tattooers studio three years ago on Gilbert's northern border, near Baseline and Lindsay roads.
He said he wants to see more regulation of his industry in Arizona, particularly from a health and sanitation standpoint.
"We deal with blood and diseases all day long and nobody even cares," he said.
He said he chose the Gilbert location precisely because the area wasn't overrun with lower-quality tattooing parlors, which he says he seesin other East Valley cities.
"There are places where there's a tattoo shop on every corner," he said. "They wouldn't let them build a McDonald's on all four corners, why would they do that with tattoo studios?"
Anthony Merrick opened the American Institute of Body Art near Gilbert and Guadalupe roads in October and offers classes in tattooing and piercing and a studio for walk-in clients.
Tattooing and body piercing is typically taught through apprenticeships, Merrick said, and there are only a few other schools like his in the country.
He said it took about two months to get his certificate of occupancy from Gilbert, and during that time, he noted, "I got the feeling that they did not want us to come in. It took a long time for anything to get done, and we were not getting any help."
But that wasn't the universal message he got from the staff, he added, as there was one employee in particular who made him feel unwelcome. "All the other girls behind the counter were really nice, and they would ask me when we were opening because they wanted to get some work done," he said.