According to Doc Susan, who works part-time at Moby Dickens, an independent bookstore in Taos, New Mexico, the resident cat is a big attraction. “We have a lot of people who come in just to see Ruby,” she says. “They don’t even buy books — they just ask, ‘Where’s Ruby?'”
Ruby’s full name is Ruby Archuletta, after a character in The Milagro Beanfield War. The long-haired tortoiseshell is usually found draped full-length over an overstuffed armchair on the bookstore’s second floor. Luckily, the bookstore owners were thoughtful enough to include a second armchair for humans to sit in and visit with Ruby (or maybe even leaf through a book).
Ruby is one of a very special breed — shop cats. Some shop cats have to do a little bit more than look pretty on top of a stack of books. For instance, most delis and corner stores in New York City have a hardworking mouser cat. “Even though it’s not accepted [and] it’s actually a violation of the law,” says Jessica Chittenden, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, “I think storeowners see the value of having a cat around to get mice in their store.” Many people may remember after September 11, 2001, reading stories about cats found in downtown delis abandoned after the disaster. Just how many cats there were surprised some people, but to cat lovers whose sharp eyes can spot a paw or tail sticking out underneath a fruit display, it was no surprise at all.
Then there are the hotel and bed and breakfast cats, who check every guest’s bed to make sure it’s comfortable enough. Matilda at the Algonquin Hotel in New York is one in a long line of feline Matildas — a tradition in a hotel that’s all about tradition. Matilda has a fancy birthday party every year at the swank hotel.
At Wild Birds Unlimited in Rochester, Michigan, Webu and Oriole bravely guard the store’s bags of birdseed with their furry bodies. Says owner Judy Mayer, her hard-sleeping kitties “greet customers, let the customers pet them, play with the children, sleep on the seed…sleep in a cat tree and a cat bed [and] sleep in a birdbath.” Whew! “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re good for business,” she adds. “People constantly, constantly talk about the cats or look for the cats or ask about the cats.”
Shop cats can turn up in the most surprising places — perhaps matching black-and-white cats at your local photocopy shop? It’s been done. Or cats watching at the door for catnip thieves at a tea-and-herb shop? Also true. Check out your local shops — you may be surprised at who you find snoozing in the sunny spots.