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Allegheny

Patrons can cuddle with cats and coffee at Lawrenceville shop

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 5:36 a.m.
The Black Cat Market staff. Left to right: store manager Alexandra Zimmerman, co-owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch.
Submitted
The Black Cat Market staff. Left to right: store manager Alexandra Zimmerman, co-owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch.
Cupcake the cat.
Submitted
Cupcake the cat.
The Black Cat Market in Lawrenceville.
Submitted
The Black Cat Market in Lawrenceville.

When Apollo native Traci Crocker moved to Pittsburgh for college, she had to leave behind her beloved kitties. Desperately in need of a fur fix, she headed to The Black Cat Market in Lawrenceville.

“Getting to pet some cats while I’m away is pretty exciting,” she says, stroking a playful feline named Cupcake.

Owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch are in the business of making people happy, charging customers $4 per 30 minutes to snuggle fostered felines. So far, business is good.

The friends opened The Black Cat Market on Aug. 27, welcoming Cupcake and Buddy – young cats rescued by Frankie’s Friends, a New Kensington-based nonprofit organization that provides relief to animals suffering from cruelty, neglect, disease or homelessness.

The shop on Butler Street will soon be a full-service café serving local coffee, tea and pastries. Until then, customers can come in and enjoy pre-packaged snacks and beverages, buy various cat-related merchandise and cuddle up with cats.

Cupcake and Buddy reside in a room separate from the public dining area. It is a feline paradise filled with food, water, toys, perches, scratching posts, beds, blankets and hiding spots. After signing a waiver, visitors can commune with the cats on a first come, first served basis. Online reservations can be made at www.blackcatmarketpgh.com .

A small, kitty door in the back wall leads to the residents’ litter boxes and provides them with an escape if they get tired of human interaction.

Ciotoli and Baloch don’t think that will happen very often. The cats love to curl up in laps or play for hours with dangling shoelaces. They’re friendly and affectionate, despite spending several years in deplorable conditions.

Frankie’s Friends will supply up to six cats at a time and process all adoptions.

The shop currently operates under soft hours. Potential guests should check The Black Cat’s Facebook page for daily updates. Once they hold a grand opening later this year, Ciotoli and Baloch hope to be open between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week.

For more than two years, the women have worked to make their dream a reality.

While researching Asian studies at Chatham University, Baloch, 24, of Shaler, got a chance to spend time in Taiwan and Japan, where cat cafes are the norm.

“There were 15 or 20 of them in just one shopping district in Kyoto,” she says. “They’re popular over there because the housing is very different than in the U.S. Most apartments don’t allow cats and cat cafes provide a place where people can interact with animals.”

Studies have shown that a feline’s purr and energy promote healing, lower blood pressure and help negate anxiety. Playtime with people helps socialize the cats so they will be better able to find forever homes.

“This is pet therapy for a lot of people,” Baloch says. “It’s a calm safe space where people can relax and get cheered up if they need that.”

Baloch met Ciotoli, 26, of Murrysville, on the local music scene and they soon started booking shows together. Both lifelong cat owners, they decided to join forces to open a place focused on cats, community and coffee.

Lawrenceville was a perfect fit. Neighborhood residents and business owners have embraced The Black Cat Market, offering advice, encouragement and donations. The women hope to return the favor by making the space a community hub. They’re hosting a poetry reading on Sept. 20 from 7 to 10 p.m., an art show in October and they have big, top secret, plans for the upcoming Halloween season.

Ciotoli’s pets, Tim and Tilly, are the official mascots of the market and serve as living proof that black cats aren’t bad luck.

“Even in 2018 people have a lot of superstitions about black cats and they often end up in the shelter system,” Ciotoli says. “By using a black cat in our name and logo, we hope it will change people’s opinion of them.”

Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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