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Since Opening In August, Lawrenceville's Black Cat Market Is Slowly Landing On Its Feet

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
Kitten Dani plays at the Black Cat Market on Thursday, November 15, 2018. She was adopted two days after the story was reported.

The Black Cat Market in Lawrenceville opened at the end of August, the passion project of owners Olivia Ciotoli and Indigo Baloch. 

The cozy shop is split into two parts: patrons first encounter a retail space with bottled drinks, cat merchandise and tchotchkes, then can enter a spacious playroom with adoptable cats and kittens.

The Market has had its share of ups and downs in the past three months. Since it opened, about a dozen cats have been adopted by visitors, through a partnership with rescue group Frankie's Friends.

Credit Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA News.
The retail space inside the Black Cat Market in Lawrenceville.

But last month, several media outlets reported the Allegheny County Health Department shut down the cafe. In reality, the Health Department issued a request for the shop to stop selling locally-made baked goods until it meets certain requirements.

"We were under the impression that since we are operating in retail and not food service and assembly we could do that," co-owner Ciotoli said. "Turns out that wasn't the case."

All other operations in the cat cafe remain open. Ciotoli said the incident was disheartening, but it didn't stop patrons from visiting.

"We were kind of in panic mode when it happened, but things worked out," she said. "We don't have the cookies right now, we have to install a mop sink and get a quick inspection and then we're good to go on selling baked goods."

Ciotoli said it took two years to find a space for the Black Cat Market to thrive. A Kickstarter that began in May of 2016 helped the Ciotoli and Baloch raise more than $20,000.

Even though they had support from the community, Ciololi said finding a landlord willing to host cats was a challenge.

"That process was very difficult, and a lot of that was landlords not really realizing what we wanted to do," she said. "We had a few totally back out on us last minute, because they were like, oh, you actually want to have cats here."

Currently, the shop only has approval to sell prepackaged drinks. Ciotoli said the shop should have the mop sink installed and Health Department approval to sell baked goods by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal is to have a full service coffee bar inside the space, though Ciotoli said that will require more time and money.

"We're trying really hard to have the full coffee bar and everything," she said. "But finally we decided to open because we can't leave people hanging."