GALLIPOLIS — Some area residents may have spent plenty of time at the counter back in the day. Some may not have wanted to be caught anywhere near the place. Still, few Gallipolis natives can deny that for the past 75 years, the Happy Corner — as a longtime business, as well as a physical building — has been a cornerstone of the downtown community. Even after the tavern closed its doors for the last time in 2003, the historic building continued to boast the cheerful insignia on the corner of Olive Street and Second Avenue like a photograph out of time.
That is until a local artist decided the charming building with the great location in downtown Gallipolis was a great recipe for his fledgling tattoo business — Envy Ink. Joshua LaBello opened the business at a rented Second Ave. location in early 2012, but moved to his current location at 862 Second Ave. late last year.
The old Happy Corner building has quite a history.
LaBello said that he bought the property from Ron Blevins, who lives in Texas, but the acting local manager of the property is Jim Blevins, Ron’s brother, who lives in Bidwell. Jim provided some local history of the once general store, turned tavern, turned tattoo shop.
“The history is that my grandparents, Augustas (Gus) and Argintina (Argie) Gabrielli, immigrated from Bagni di Lucca, Italy in 1913 to Cleveland and then to Portsmouth. They had seven children; the oldest two were born in Italy. In Portsmouth, they owned a cigar/confectionery store called the Palace of Sweets that they lost during the Depression,” said Jim Blevins. “They came to Gallipolis in about 1935 where their oldest daughter Nell lived who was married to Vince Parrotti and operated ‘Vince’s’ on Court Street. They bought the building and opened a tavern/food service that they named ‘Happy Corner’.”
According to Jim Blevins, the Gabriellis lived in the upstairs apartment for a few years until they bought a house at 740 2nd Avenue. Gus died in 1949, and Argie turned the business over to her sons, Bill and Al Gabrielli. Bill and Al operated it until about 1970.
He said ownership of the building stayed in the family, most recently owned by his brother, Ron Blevins, a grandson who was actually born in the upstairs apartment in 1939.
LaBello said there are common threads between he and the Gabriellis, both in heritage and drive.
“The owners were very tickled that the new owner is also Italian,” said LaBello, of himself. “Not sure if that is relevant, but they were very excited about my vision for the place and seem very happy with my success here.
“My paternal grandmother, Grandma ‘Bella as we called her, was the youngest of seven siblings and the only one to be born in America,” explained LaBello of his own Italian heritage.
He said he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and moved to Ohio when he was in the middle of third grade.
He also said there was a certain likeness between the building owners in ambition and vision.
“I think there is similarity in the personality of how I run things to the stories Jim told me about how his family ran the Happy Corner… He told me a great story when, during The Great Depression, a family desperately traveling and looking for work stopped in. There was no work for them, but the Gabriellis fed the man and his family, and gave them enough gas to get them to the next town to look for work there,” relayed LaBello. “I think there is a parallel there with my philosophy on treating clients and every one who walks through the door.”
So approximately ten years after the the Happy Corner closed for the last time in 2003, the building is again open, this time, as Envy Ink Tattoo and Gallery, under LaBello’s direction.
Yes, you read that correctly — gallery; as in, art gallery.
Envy Ink has, from its very beginning, served as a cornerstone of the local arts scene, as well, featuring local and regional artists, poets, performers and musicians in the monthly Envy Ink Art Salon, held at 8 p.m. on the last Saturday of every month. The Salon, started by LaBello at his previous downtown location, recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its local and regional talent and art showcases.
“I make a living with art, and that’s really fun, but it’s sometimes hard to meet other people who do art, because it’s often a solitary pursuit,” said LaBello. “Really, it started selfishly, I guess. I wanted to bring people in, show them my art and make them listen to my music,” LaBello said laughing. “It’s grown quite a bit, but we are always looking for new members, though. I want it to be community-wide … because we all want a place where we can [have this].”
For more information about Envy Ink and the Art Salon, visit Envy Ink’s web site at www.EnvyInkTattoo.com or the Envy Ink Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EnvyInkTattoo.