November 30, 2001

Taking a Peek Behind the Scenes

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In this three part series, The Sun will highlight the people who leave their mark everyday on Cornell, Collegetown and Ithaca. You may not even have known their names but you’ve probably seen their faces or witnessed their handiwork. The first installment looks at Ithaca staples.


Walk into any dorm room or apartment and you are bound to see a hint of Beyond the Wall, the local poster store with an abundance of artistic, music-related, vintage, black-and-white and landscape posters in addition to many of what store manager David Mohington refers to as “knick-knacks,” such as tin lunch boxes and Phish paraphernalia.

Beyond the Wall wasn’t always in its current location of the Commons. It originally opened in Collegetown, but didn’t do as well as planned and closed for a two-year hiatus. The store has been set up in two locations in the Commons but it is in this last where Mohington said he feels it has been the most profitable.

This poster-and-more store is actually part of the conglomerate Trent Graphics, which is based in Stroudsburg, Penn., but has recently been named the new prototype for the entire chain because of its chaotic yet all-encompassing display of the in-house posters.

Almost two years ago a former employee began a close following of the jam-band Phish, with maps of which state the band was in, how many concerts they had performed and how close they were to Ithaca. Although he has since left the store, Beyond the Wall keeps a small section of Phish books and t-shirts.

Mohington enjoys working at the store and quipped that he is “now burdened with knowing 10,000 sheets of paper.”

For customers without familiarity in the poster department, Mohington will lead them through each section, taking background information as they go along.

Mohington said that the store’s more popular prototypes include such artists as Rothko, Justin Bua (Mohington’s personal favorite), or — the most recent hot commodity — skylines of New York City.

Although many Cornell students frequent the store, Mohington said that the majority of its consumers come from Ithaca College.

“We do a service here,” Mohington said, noting that in the age that he sees to be full of computer graphics and “far-fetched advertising,” it is nice to come back to what he calls true art and expression.


Ron and Dawn Stiehl initially sought a “short, snappy and sweet” name for their business, which came to the Commons five years ago, but after much thought they decided that their current name — Stiehl’s Body Modification Station — worked best.

It represents not only their personal dedication to their business but also that steel products are often used in “body modifying,” the owners explained. Most importantly, the name is tough to forget.

Stiehl’s is as much about education as it is about piercing and tattoos, according to Dawn Stiehl, who donates part of her time offering four free seminars at Cornell and other schools on proper sanitation, care and management of piercings.

The Stiehls’ focus on college students is certainly repaid; Ron Stiehl estimates that 60 percent of their clients come from nearby schools. Their clientele hails from not only from Cornell and Ithaca College, but also from Elmira College and the State University of New York Binghamton.

“When I was considering getting a piercing, there was no doubt where I would go. Stiehl’s has far and away the best reputation for sanitation and service,” said Rebecca Jannol ’04.

While many states’ safety rules are on the books about tattooing, there are no New York State laws that regulate piercing or branding. Ron Stiehl warns that while many businesses may appear to be conscious of sanitation, a customer should always question the practices.

“Just because [a package containing a needle] is sealed, it doesn’t mean it’s sterilized,” Ron Stiehl said.

A needle has been properly sterilized if placed in an autoclave, which is similar to a pressure cooker, where it must reach 260 degrees. If sterilization has occurred, the pink arrows on the package should turn brown. Stiehl’s regularly hires an independent lab to check the effectiveness of their autoclave.

The Stiehls said they initially went into business to provide a respectable and safe place to get piercings. Before opening the Body Modification Station they had encountered few piercing studios which they trusted. Ron Stiehl has six piercings and four tattoos and Dawn Stiehl has forty-five piercings and is “literally tattooed from head to toe,” according to her husband.

Between them, Ron and Dawn Stiehl have seven children, ranging in age from 12 to 36. In keeping with the family business, Ron Stiehl’s 19-year-old daughter helps out during the summers.

Though they are currently looking for a house in the Ithaca area, the Stiehls commute from their home in Pennsylvania in order to give their children a chance to finish school there. The two make the 55-mile trip to and from Ithaca every day.

But Ron Stiehl said, “Only in Ithaca could you find such a wonderful mix of people — good, friendly people.”

Archived article by Laura Rowntree