Like the majority of people who live in New York City, I’m a huge fan of bodega cats, those ubiquitous felines who dwell in corner convenience stores and spend their days warding off vermin and napping on stacks of Lay’s chips.
Well, it turns out that beyond the bodega cat scene, there’s a whole wider world of shop cats out there. These working felines have become the focus of a new book by Tamar Arslanian, the voice behind the I Have Cat blog. Titled Shop Cats of New York, the glossy tome profiles kitties who are part of the retail experience at book stores, bike shops, record spots and other outlets around the city.
Here’s Tamar talking about the genesis of her book, the day-to-day details of what being a shop cat involves, and speculating on exactly what these working felines get up to after business hours.
How did the idea for the Shop Cats book come about?
While I can hardly believe it myself, my a-ha moment came in the shower. This is particularly unusual for me because I’m not someone who does her best thinking in the shower and have never related to those who say they do. But when the idea struck me, I literally leaped out of the shower dripping water all the way to my laptop where I began a furious Google search [about shop cats].
What was your first shop cat experience?
That’s Jack, a wine shop cat, who I mention in the book. He has his limits. He’s quite a character and has been known to be a bit ornery.
On a day-to-day basis, what sort of duties does a shop cat have to undertake?
To be admired, accept offerings from disciples, get plenty of beauty rest, occasionally catch a mouse — or, from what I hear, watch a mouse scurry by — and perhaps swat at a suspicious or overly loving customer or two.
Talking of customers, are there any dos and don’ts to bear in mind when approaching a shop cat?
Absolutely. Just because a cat lives in a place of business doesn’t mean he or she is public property. Not only should you be attentive to body language, but unless the cat has made it very obvious that they want the attention, you should ask an employee if said cat is friendly before approaching.
From the business’ point of view, what are the benefits of having a shop cat?
Beyond the obvious one of scaring off rodents — although, as I said earlier, it’s pretty clear not all shop cats excel at this — they most certainly attract business. A cat differentiates a shop from the competition. A cat gives a shop character and warmth. And if the cat is well cared for — like those in the book — it reflects well on management: “If they care enough to welcome an animal into their business, they must be good people,” is where my mind goes.
I’m more apt to spend my hard-earned dollar at a place with a shop cat than elsewhere. I have to believe I’m not alone in this regard.
What do you suspect shop cats get up to at night once the businesses close?
I have to imagine they get into everything they’re not supposed to — just as our house cats do. I like to picture Jack taking a look at the books to make sure everything is in order, and Kitty the pilates studio cat with a past-life as a performer putting on a show.
Finally, did you come across any cats who’ve destroyed or ruined stock in the store?
Not that they (or the shop keepers) confessed to.
Shop Cats of New York is published via Harper Design.