There’s a cat in nearly every New York convenience store and it’s one of the most delightful things about life in this city.
Drop into any NYC corner store—New Yorkers call them “bodegas”—and alongside the slightly overpriced, possibly expired, and definitely essential-to-life goods (where else can you pick up milk, laundry detergent, and condoms at 3 a.m.?), you’re likely to encounter a cat who lives among the merchandise. These cats are known as “bodega cats,” and they’re a New York institution. Anyone who’s lived in the city for any length of time has his or her preferred bodega to which they’re fiercely loyal, and is likely on a first-name basis with both its proprietor and its cat.
New Yorkers, for the most part, love cats. The animals are, by turns, brilliant and charming and aloof and cranky—just like the city’s denizens collectively imagine ourselves to be. Plus, they’re useful: Rats and mice are a common nuisance in the city, and cats rid their residences of vermin just by their presence; many New Yorkers know someone who acquired a cat simply as the lazy (or mousetrap-averse) person’s solution to their apartment building’s mouse problem.
Bodegas, with their edible goods, attract mice. Thus, their cats provide an elegant—and adorable—solution, spending their daytimes perched near the cash register or draped over a stack of beer cases, and hunting vermin by night. Unfortunately, they’re also illegal for bodegas to have. Which, given the city’s rebellious spirit, is yet another reason New Yorkers love them.
It’s a Catch-22 situation for bodega owners: They face a fine of hundreds of dollars for having a cat…but about the same amount for evidence of vermin. Better to have a cat than to have mice, I’d say, and nearly all bodega owners seem to agree.
Evidence of public support of the kitties is plentiful. Last October, a Yelp reviewer had the gall to criticize a deli for having a cat, and seemingly the entire internet schooled her in how wrong she was. A petition to Mayor DeBlasio to legalize bodega cats, written in response to the minor scandal, has since received more than 5,000 signatures.
And there’s even an Instagram account called Bodega Cats of Instagram, a crowdsourced account that features cats from around town. (Lately it’s begun featuring cats from elsewhere, too, but is still mostly NYC.)
Check out these cute kitties: