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The Black Cat Market is Pittsburgh's Newest Cat Cafe

Co-owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch opened the Lawrenceville location to provide a venue for animal interactions for those without the ability to keep pets themselves.

photo by olivia ciotoli

Walk to the back room of a sunny little cafe on Butler Street and 52nd Street and you’ll be greeted by the mischievous little faces of purring cats. The Black Cat Market, which opened a month ago, blends a relaxed cafe vibe with a love for adoptable feline friends. For $4 per person and a quick signing of a waiver, patrons can spend a half hour in the cat room playing with the cafe’s cats. After making sure to take a hefty dose of allergy medicine, I headed to the cafe to see if even I could be charmed. A set of bright green eyes peered at me through the back window and within five minutes of meeting Buddy and Cupcake, the cafe’s current adoptable friends, I was sold.

Co-owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch met through the Pittsburgh music scene and began booking shows together. Eventually they co-ran a DIY punk venue called the Venus Fly Trap and their shows were often fundraisers for animal rescue and aid organizations. In spite of this work, they always found they were asking themselves if it would ever be enough. The Black Cat Market is a realization of their vision to provide a safe space for people to come and be with animals while helping the cause they both believe in.

photo by remington taylor brooks

The Black Cat Market provides a venue for animal interactions for those without the ability to keep pets themselves, whether it be because of apartment living or lack time or resources. It’s the second cat cafe to open in Pittsburgh; Colony Cafe opened in February 2017.

Cat cafes first became popular in Japan and Taiwan for these same reasons. Much of the population lives in apartments that don’t allow animals so cafes provide access to that experience. Baloch visited both Japan and Taiwan and took copious notes on the cat cafes she visited. Returning with that knowledge helped inform The Black Cat Markets setup. Baloch and Ciotoli are excited to keep making improvements so it can become their dream space. “It’s not going to be perfect at the beginning,” says Baloch. “We’ve been telling folks we’re soft open because we’re still working through the kinks and permitting.”

Studies show that having a pet can lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety. When cat cafes came to the U.S., it became possible for them to become adoption facilities. The Black Cat Market works with Frankie’s Friends, a cat rescue out of New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Adoptions from space are considered outside adoptions, meaning that while they are processed through an animal rescue, they occur outside its facilities. “When you go to a shelter and you see a cat in a cage, they’re probably miserable, tired and confused. It’s harder to picture taking that cat home because you’re not seeing their full personality,” says Baloch. In a facility like The Black Cat Market’s cat room, cats have a chance to roam freely, socialize and adjust to their surroundings, making it easier for potential owners to get to know them. Even this allergic reporter found herself in a brief daydream about scooping up one of these friendly kitties.

photo by dan brown

Currently the cafe is working on developing its coffee and espresso program as well as getting a food preparation permit. Store manager and lead barista Alexandra Zimmerman will lead that wing of the business. Currently all of their beverages are bottled. In the future they plan to link their coffee program with Grounds & Hounds, a coffee company that donates 20 percent of its profits to animal rescue organizations. Pre-packaged food is currently available with vegan and non-vegan cookies from Good Chroma and tea from Té Amo tea, a mother and son run company that sells his Peruvian grandmother’s recipe for black tea blended with cloves, ceylon cinnamon, anise and cane sugar.

Baloch and Ciotoli are also dedicated to providing a space that’s supportive of the arts with monthly art exhibitions and installations. Currently The Black Cat Market is hosting an installation by local artist Lafawn Barefoot about healing from trauma called “The Snake Medicine Tent. Both women want the cafe to be a place for healing and support. “We never want anyone to walk in here and feel like they don’t belong. I really love talking to customers that seem like they want to talk. It feels healing for me as well,” says Baloch.

5171 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/408-2218, blackcatmarketpgh.com

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