They curl up in sunny windows or in empty cardboard boxes, ignoring the activity around them. They stretch out by the register, napping their shifts away. One of them is even known for draping herself around customers’ necks.
The cats-in-residence at Twin Cities area stores may not be the hardest-working employees on duty, but they often are the most beloved. When the front doorbell jingles, customers will occasionally admit they’ve stopped by “just to see the cat.” But that’s perfectly fine with the owners, who seem to enjoy these cats’ company just as much as their customers do.
Hudson Hardware, Minneapolis
When a family’s cat is lost, a few neighbors might pitch in to put up notices or search the area. When the store cat at Hudson Hardware went missing, people from all over the Twin Cities — and from as far away as New York and Australia — rallied around the cause. Bolt isn’t just any shop cat. She has a sizable in-person fan base and a strong social media presence as @HardwareKitty.
During the protests following the killing of George Floyd, the store was broken into. When the owners of this family-owned business arrived to survey the damage, they couldn’t find their 8-year-old calico, described by co-owner Lisa Hudson as “the friendliest cat ever.” Word went out and neighbors began searching and Facebook lit up with well wishes for Bolt.
The night after the burglary, Hudson’s husband, Jim, was at home, watching real-time security camera feeds from the store. He saw movement on one screen, then realized it was Bolt, tentatively creeping toward her food bowl. “She must have been terrified by all the noise,” Hudson said. “It turns out she was hiding in the store the whole time.”
When customers who are afraid of cats come to the store, Bolt goes into another room. But she warmly greets those she admires. “If she likes someone, she’ll wrap herself around their neck and let them carry her around,” said Hudson.
Wild Birds Unlimited, St. Paul
Despite the cautionary tale of Sylvester and Tweety Bird, this shop cat seems to love living in a place devoted to bird-related products. Raven, who was rescued from a shelter, is a Maine coon cat with striking green eyes and flowing black locks that belong in a shampoo commercial.
“We gave him the only bird name we could,” said store manager Teri Grimm. Raven has amassed such a following that the shop has a special cabinet just to store the treats people bring him. There’s a lock on that cabinet as well as the office refrigerator, because Raven has figured out how to open them and help himself.
Raven has his own set of duties at the store. “When he sees someone come in, he’ll hop up and lie across the entire front counter, because he’s hoping they’ll stop by the register,” she said. “Sometimes people can’t find a place to lay their purchases, because the counter is too full with cat.”
Raven, who loves head pats, has an annual birthday celebration on May 21, with cake and a few cat treats. His favorite time of year is spring, when the birdbath and fountain displays go up. “They’re just so tempting — he loves drinking out of them,” Grimm said.
Viking Trophies, Awards & Recognition, Brooklyn Park
You know you’re a valuable member of the team when you get a title. Charlie, according to the Viking Trophies website, is “store greeter,” an essential member of the staff.
True to his title, the 10-year-old rescued stray adheres to a strict daily work schedule. “He makes morning rounds to check in on the staff, then sits outside the back door to catch some sun before heading to nap on my desk,” said owner Zenon Dawydowycz. “Charlie supervises what goes on, and when he thinks I need a break, he’ll make it known I need to stop. He’s a good source of entertainment.”
In fact, the cat seems to be a good influence on everyone. “He definitely relieves stress,” Dawydowycz said. “Customers will come in, say hello to us, and then I hear the change in their voices when they say, ‘Oh, Charlie’s here.’ You know he’s made them feel better.”
Mother Earth Gardens, Minneapolis
Peaches spends most of his day curled up in a box behind the cash register, snoozing. And yet, he’s the most-requested staff member at this Longfellow neighborhood garden center.
“Peaches is very popular,” said marketing and events coordinator Stepheni Hubert. At 18, the elder statesman of area shop cats feels entitled to frequent naps and occasional absences.
And he’s not just missing in action. He’s consistently failed to do the job he was brought in to do: catch mice. “He’s terrible at it,” Hubert said. “Once I saw him batting a mouse around outside, but he got bored and let it go. After more than eight years with us, I think he’s figured out we’ll feed and care for him, even if he’s not doing his job.”
Staff members put “Do Not Disturb” signs on his nap boxes, and warn folks to stay away from his stomach area (“He’s sensitive about it,” Hubert explained). Instead, they suggest scratching his head, back or haunches and respecting his desire for privacy. (He’ll walk away when he’s had enough interaction.) Still, it’s a privilege of age to contradict oneself, especially when it comes to receiving affection: “There are a very few people for whom he’ll roll over and allow belly scratches,” Hubert said.
Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive, Minneapolis
“I’ve always been a cat guy,” Tim Suggs said. That’s a bit of understatement for a man whose Northeast repair shop is home to five cats. The shop’s first cat, Bobbie (with an “ie”) was a stray who turned up at a machine shop Suggs was visiting. “I asked if I could take him home and they said, ‘Sure.’ ”
After Bobbie was hit by a car in front of the Central Avenue shop five years ago, Suggs installed a designed-for-cats invisible fencing system and started over with Bobby (with a “y”), Stevie, Bruce, Brandon and Dean (not pictured). “Those last three are named for legendary employees who retired,” Suggs said. The cats and the cars seem to coexist just fine, but Suggs did say that he and his staff “always roll up the windows after we’re done working on a car, because, you know, they’re cats.”
Dean is the most social of the felines. “Back before COVID-19, when our waiting area was open, he’d always be in there, sitting on someone’s lap,” Suggs said. The breakout video star of the group, Brandon, was captured on the security camera engaging in a nightly game of “round up the shop rags,” which became a popular Facebook post. “It’s OK, really, because then in the morning the rags always are in one spot and ready to go in the washer,” said the Cat Guy Suggs diplomatically.
Julie Kendrick is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis. She can be reached at @KendrickWorks.