By Madison Carter
Aaron Cherry huddled in the bathroom at Peach Tree Tattoo, his livelihood since finishing college.
Cherry, adrenaline crazed and curious, left the door cracked enough to look through the windows and watched the green glow sweeping toward him.
The shop fell into darkness, as did the bypass outside. Transformers exploded. There was a roar, and it got louder and louder.
Then the green light was upon him.
The tornadoes and other severe weather that swept through Bowling Green after midnight on Dec. 11, 2022, caused 11 deaths and destroyed 500 homes and 100 businesses.
One of those businesses was Cherry’s tattoo shop, where he saw years of work wiped out in a matter of minutes, leaving him with a choice facing many other local businesses: build back or find a new dream?
Cherry rose from the rubble of the deadly tornado that made its way down the U.S. 31Bypass to find his whole life upended and a long, bumpy road back to normalcy.
But Cherry and the guys who own the business with him look at what happened as an opportunity.
For two years, the shop was the apex of Cherry’s pursuits. After nearly finishing college at WKU, he had decided to surrender his post-secondary education and work there.
The idea for the shop came from Cherry’s friend and co-worker Kevin Gunn, known at the shop as Mr. Kevin Gunn wondered if the two maybe should start their own business. They had become unhappy at the tattoo parlor where they worked.
So, Cherry and Gunn left, and with them came Josh Caudill and Corey Settles.
Finding a location for a new shop presented a challenge for the group.
Cherry found many places hesitant to rent to them because their work was viewed as “bottom-of-the-barrel” and related to crime, he said.
After looking to no avail for a location in Nashville, Cherry and his friends returned to Bowling Green. Driving along the bypass one day they spotted a for-sale sign posted outside at small, beat-up building and soon were signing a lease and working on renovating the shop.
Once Cherry and Gunn found a location, they began the process of getting a license. That included getting blood-borne pathogen training for workers, installing sinks in each booth, and constructing four-foot walls between booths.
When the shop opened, it was a sight to see.
The front section had windows lined with lights glowing red-orange, creating a warm and inviting feel.
A customer could see the family that was Peach Tree. The owners and those they worked with at the shop cared about each other like family because the shop was their lifeline.
Because Cherry’s line of work is personal, he is very selective about who he lets into his circle. To be an apprentice at the shop, you need an impressive portfolio, and you must also get on well with the rest of the staff.
The night of the tornado, Cherry took shelter in the shop because it was mostly brick and seemed safer than his trailer.
After the window shattered and the wind and rain blew in and the storm finally passed, he opened the door of the bathroom, where he had huddled during the storm with his girlfriend, Lily Tran and their dogs and cat.
He called Gunn and the others.
Were they OK?
Yes, but the shop was destroyed.
The team quickly began putting all the tattooing equipment and materials into Gunn’s truck. Cherry stayed at the shop for the rest of the morning, until all the equipment was salvaged and protected from the pouring rain.
They started looking for a new shop.
They found it at 2708 Scottsville Road. Like the first building, the new place needed some updates. They fixed floors, painted and put up drywall.
On the Peach Tree Facebook page, Cherry posted a link to the GoFundMe he created to ask for donations to help the group get back into the community. The fundraiser netted more than $3,000.
They used the money to install new plumbing in the building, among other things. And in about a month,
the team finished renovating and turned a vacant space in a shopping center into a new and improved Peach Tree Tattoo.
In the new shop, the workers joked that the tornado was all Gunn’s fault.
The previous shop had been falling apart for some time, and Gunn wanted to find a a way to get out of the lease early.
Cherry found a silver lining in the chaos.
He knew that change was coming to the shop, even if he did not expect how abrupt it would be. There was always something else to fix and another thing to put money into. The team was ready to leave.
The tornado intervened.
It ended the lease in a shower of water and glass.
And Cherry saw it happen.