Efforts are underway to bring cat cafes to Lansing. Here’s what they might look like. Rachel Greco and Nick King, Lansing State Journal
LANSING – Cat cafes, a concept that combines cat cuddling and coffee in one space, could make its way to Lansing this year.
The business model, already being used in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, offers a cozy, cafe-like setting where guests can relax with coffee and visit with adoptable cats in need of a home.
Now two start-up efforts are underway locally.
The goal, organizers said, is to provide a place where shelter and rescue cats can be matched with forever homes.
Pay a fee, hang out with cats
On Tuesday morning Justine Bell, co-founder of what will be called The Trendy Tabby Cat Café, stood in the middle of an empty storefront on East Cesar Chavez Avenue.
The 1,400-square-foot space in Lansing’s Old Town was once home to a barber shop, and it sits next to Old Town Tails, a pet grooming business.
The walls and ceilings are bare. It needs paint, furniture and renovation, but Bell said this summer it could become The Trendy Tabby Cat Café — home to about 15 adoptable cats from the Capital Area Humane Society’s shelter.
For an entrance fee of between $4 and $7 per person, guests can come to the cafe and spend time with the animals, who will have free rein of the cafe, while customers lounge, play games or read books.
Cat-themed retail items, including t-shirts and coffee mugs, will likely be for sale at the cafe, along with packaged snacks. A coffee truck parked on the property will sell drinks, Bell said, and guests can enjoy them in the cafe. If they meet a cat they want to adopt they’ll be able to apply to do it.
Bell and other organizers with Kringle LaCosse Spay/Neuter Clinic, a local nonprofit started by veterinarian Dr. Lori Themel, have been working toward the creation of a cat café for a year now.
Funds raised at the cafe will help pay for the clinic’s spaying and neutering of cats throughout the state, Bell said.
“We’re trying to build a community space here where people can come and they can feel good about spending their money, and know that it’s going to something bigger,” she said.
Adoption the end goal
Penny Myers, director of community relations at the Capital Area Humane Society, said the effort at The Trendy Tabby will be a partnership. CAHS will approve and conduct all the adoptions they facilitate.
The shelter takes in an average of 1,900 cats every year, Myers said, but working with a cat cafe to adopt cats will allow for the nonprofit to take in more.
“This is just going to mean more cats that we can take in, and lives that we can save, so this is a win-win,” Myers said.
Kelsey Maccombs of DeWitt said she and her husband Ryan plan to offer a different take on the concept.
At Constellation Cat Cafe, which they plan to open sometime this year in the Lansing area, Kelsey Maccombs said they hope to have two separate rooms — a cat lounge where a dozen to 20 rescue cats from nonprofit Saved by Zade and other area rescues will live, and a cafe where coffee drinks and bakery items will be for sale.
The goal, she said, is for the cafe to sustain the entire operation. Other details, such as adoption fees, are still being decided.
The couple, who have fostered rescue cats for six years, have looked at potential locations in Delta Township and East Lansing, but Maccombs said they haven’t settled on one yet.
“This is a way we could further our rescue work and find homes for cats,” she said.
There are many different business models for cat cafes, said Wendy Welch, communications director for the Human Society of Huron Valley.
Welch said when the nonprofit opened Tiny Lions Lounge and Adoption Center in a strip mall in Ann Arbor three years ago their focus was on cat adoption, not establishing a cafe business.
State regulations mandate that animals be separated from places where food and beverages are prepared, Welch said.
At Tiny Lions, guests pay an entrance fee to interact with cats, but the coffee, tea and hot chocolate offered on site is self-serve and free.
The operation includes only a few paid employees, Welch said, and relies heavily on volunteers who help care for the animals.
“We’ve adopted out hundreds of cats,” Welch said. “Ours is focused on adoption and the human-animal interaction, and the benefits of that.”
‘Just out of the box enough’
Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Vanessa Shafer said while the association’s board hasn’t taken an official position on The Trendy Tabby’s plans to locate in Old Town, she believes the concept is “just out of the box enough” to work in the neighborhood.
“I can’t think of a place where it would be as embraced as it would be in Old Town,” she said. “Eccentric and quirky is how we roll.”
Trendy Tabby organizers hope to commit to the space at 707 E. Cesar Chavez Ave. by mid-April, Bell said, after an online fundraising campaign for start-up costs and six months of operating expenses concludes.
It would take an estimated $51,700 to open and run the cafe for six months. It can open on less than that, Bell said, but the concept needs community support.
“We’re using all of our networks and all of support and we’re saying, ‘We would love to make this a reality and we need you to come and join us.'”
An online campaign is also underway to support The Constellation Cat Cafe, Maccombs said.
Bell said cat cafes offer people a unique environment to meet animals in need of a home. People will come because they’re looking to adopt, she said, but others will visit just to relax and interact with cats.
“This is going to be a good place for adult cats to really relax and expand and show their personalities, and adult cats are the ones that have a harder time being adopted,” she said.
Visit The Trendy Tabby Cat Cafe on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheTrendyTabby/ . Donate to its on-line fundraising efforts at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-trendy-tabby-cat-cafe?fbclid=IwAR04g5NlVjrQF4ZK0jezTCIBQoMV34bUdt2hYsRN-cZyhviPOCTa5p2KT1c#/ .
Visit The Constellation Cat Cafe on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/constellationcatcafe/ . Donate to its fundraising efforts at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/constellation-cat-cafe#/ .
Capital Area Humane Society’s Penny Myers talks about how The Trendy Tabby Cat Cafe will benefit the Lansing shelter. Nick King, Lansing State Journal
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