The bodega cat (or shop cat, if you want to go a little more broad) is not a concept that is unique to New York City—you’ll find the furry creatures in stores, libraries, and museums around the globe—but the working felines of the five boroughs are perhaps the best-documented, with a plethora of Instagram accounts and websites devoted to their exploits.
And as of late last year, there’s now a book about the cats who call NYC businesses home, called—fittingly—Shop Cats of New York. The book is the brainchild of Tamar Arslanian, the blogger behind I Have Cat, who wanted to shine a light on these kitties. She sees them as more than just mousers (the traditional role played by a shop cat) or companions for their owners. “While dogs are much more visible in NYC, cats play a vital role in creating a sense of community in a city where it can sometimes feel lacking,” she explains. “These cats help spur conversation and build human connections over a shared interest.”
She teamed up with photographer Andrew Marttila (whose Instagram profile reads: “I photograph cats for a living. No, seriously.”) to tell the stories of 40 cats throughout the city—including Matilda, the Algonquin Hotel’s resident feline (who’s actually one of several Matildas that have called the storied venue home); Tiny, of Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore; and Creeper, who lived at the dearly departed Bleecker Street Records (and who passed away right before the book’s publication last year).
There’s a strong current of neighborhood pride in the book: some of the cats that are featured have their own Instagram accounts and devoted fans, and Arslanian was inspired by her own local shop cats. “I have two shop cats in my Manhattan neighborhood that I've known for years,” Arslanian says. “While I have house cats, I found myself popping in on my way to or from home to get and give a bit of extra kitty love.”
And, unsurprisingly, almost all of the cats featured live within small businesses, where it’s easier to give a feline in need a home. “Several business owners mentioned that the cats in their shops and offices receive more stimulation and attention in a given day than their own house pets,” Arslanian explains.
There’s a benefit, then, for both the shop owners—who get both pest control and, occasionally, a bit of notoriety from their kitty companions—and the cats themselves. “I hope by highlighting how beloved and well cared for they are, rescue groups might start consider adopting out to businesses with proper vetting.”