Gianna Caranfa got a second chance at life and she’s not letting it go to waste.
At two years old, the now 28-year-old Yorktown native and Lakeland High School alumna was diagnosed with a rare brain stem tumor. After doctors turned her family away, feeling they could not operate on her, Caranfa’s life was saved by Dr. Fred Epstein at NYU Hospital in Manhattan. Epstein came up with an inventive surgical procedure that removed 80% of her tumor, with the hope that the remainder would disappear on its own.
When the family’s insurance carrier denied coverage for the procedure — which could have left Caranfa paralyzed — Epstein did the surgery, for free.
“Miracles happen and I slowly regained the ability to live a normal life. I only have nerve damage on my left side, so that’s where I get all my tattoos,” said Caranfa, who is right handed. “I always wanted to pursue something that I love and make a difference for people since Dr. Epstein made a difference for me.”
Epstein died in 2006 due to melanoma.
So Caranfa set out to follow her dreams and pursue her passions by opening Bee Inked Tattoo Parlor in Yorktown.
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Caranfa is one of few female tattoo shop owners.
“It’s definitely a male-run industry,” Caranfa said. “And in the beginning, it’s hard for women to make it. (Women in the industry) have all gone through these hardships, where women are the underdogs and right now is a time where we’re showing that we can do this.”
The parlor, located in the Triangle Center in Yorktown, looks more like a living room than a stereotypical tattoo parlor. Portraits of woodland creatures greet customers upon entering, while a black couch sits invitingly front and center. Beyond the neon light reading “Bee Inked,” is a mural of a bee with geometric shapes around it.
Each “canvas” — a term used to describe someone getting a tattoo — is brought to a private room for their sessions to add to the comfort.
“It’s nerve-racking to get a tattoo, especially something meaningful,” Caranfa said. “You’re vulnerable and sometimes you have to get half naked. So I wanted to create a place that was calming and not anxiety-filled so everyone feels safe and happy.”
“A lot of tattoo shops have this stigma of being grungy boys club kind of places and tattooing has come so far from the stereotypical biker gang,” Caranfa continued. “I wanted a tattoo parlor that felt safe for myself and the community. You’re a walking canvas, a walking art museum.”
As for the name, Caranfa says her love of puns helped in that department.
“I love puns, if you look at my Instagram the titles under my tattoos are usually puns,” Caranfa said. “Come ‘bee’ inked by me and it’ll only sting a little.”
Caranfa originally attended SUNY Purchase to become a special education arts teacher, but as she puts it, fate has a way of stepping in and she found her calling was in the world of tattoos. She began an apprenticeship in 2017.
“There was one sentence that a professor of mine said to me,” Caranfa said. “Professor Philip Listengart (a SUNY Purchase associate professor emeritus of art and design) told me that only 4% of art students pursue an art career, it’s rare for people to pursue their passions. So I’m really happy I kept his words in my heart and I’m proud to be in that small percent who actually make it a career.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Caranfa volunteered at a children’s hospital in Yonkers where she was a mermaid, using a fully functional mermaid tail she built.
“Mermaids can’t walk or talk and I loved being relatable to some of those kids and making them smile,” Caranfa said. “I’ve always just loved everything about helping people.”
According to Caranfa, the tattoo parlor gives her an opportunity not only to put her art skills to use, but also to connect with people in her community.
“Being a tattoo artist is almost like being a therapist,” she said. “I wanted to give back to people. Yorktown is my home and it’s a great community, a family community.”
She gives credit to all who helped her achieve her dream.
“Obviously there’s talent there, but a lot of it is thanks to my mentor and mentors throughout life,” Caranfa said. “I’m always asking questions; I never want to feel like I’m there yet. There’s always room to grow.”
‘A family community’
Caranfa said chose Yorktown to set up shop for a few reasons — including the up-and-coming nature of the area — but mainly because of her family and friends.
Caranfa moved in with her grandmother at age 14, following her grandmother’s breast cancer diagnosis, in order to be close to her. Caranfa was happy to report, following a successful surgery, her “Nana” is cancer free.
“I want to be near my family, watch it grow, and support everyone. They created who I am today,” Caranfa said. “To create this dream, it’s a link to everybody.”
Within her shop, Caranfa has set up a space dedicated to family members who have passed away, making sure to honor those who she says really helped shape her life and career.
“I really want to thank my family and my boyfriend’s family and friends for all the help because it really is a community based thing,” Caranfa said.
To learn more about Caranfa and Bee Inked Tattoo Parlor, go to instagram.com/beeinkedtattoo_parlor or instagram.com/giannacaranfa_tattoo.
Heather Clark covers business openings and closings throughout Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties. Keep up on the latest comings and goings by joining our Facebook group at What’s going there Westchester, Rockland, Putnam. Contact Clark via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.