For many cat lovers, cat cafés have become destination dining experiences. Some will travel long distances to hang out with feline friends. Others come because they want to see what a cat café is like. On this particular day at the Blue Cat, a steady flow of people kept the staff (and the kitties) hopping. Kiesha MacLean and her friend Patty Kendall came from 30 and 45 minutes away because they and their children wanted to check the place out. Sandra Fly, visiting with her daughter Kelly Easley, was curious about the idea: “This is awesome! The concept blew my mind. You don’t get the chance to bond with the cats this way in a shelter. I’m not looking to adopt, but I’ll support them.”
Not everyone in Austin has welcomed the cat café. Housed in a small building covered inside and out with brightly colored cat murals, the Blue Cat sits in a section of East Austin that has changed rapidly in recent years. Empty buildings and run-down houses sit side by side with shiny new apartment complexes and restaurants. Used car lot signs announce, “No Credit, No Problem!” An abandoned car wash sits on the same block as the upscale Peacock Salon and a tavern offering craft brews.
Some neighbors in the area see the café as a sign of new vitality. Others see it as a symbol of increasing gentrification in a neighborhood once dominated by Hispanic, family-run businesses. Gray has received threatening messages from protesters. On the café’s first anniversary in October 2016, vandals defaced the property with obscene graffiti and glued the door locks shut.
Despite resistance, the Blue Cat fulfills a dream for Gray. Running a cat café is challenging: “It’s a struggle to pay the bills. This is not a money-making thing.”
—Rick Matt and Jenny Lind Schmitt are graduates of World Journalism Institute’s mid-career course
Remembering the Little People
After seven times as finalists, the Fisher-Price Little People finally earned a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame, located on the second floor of the National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y.
Fisher-Price has sold more than 2 billion Little People since their introduction in 1959. They’ve evolved from tubular wooden figures to plastic ones with arms, legs, and dimensional faces.