Tell us a little about yourselves. What made you want to be entrepreneurs?
I was always interested in the retro style. Growing up in the late seventies and eighties and watching TV shows like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and others had a huge influence on my style. When I got older, I started ordering retro things online because there was no place local to purchase them. In 2009, we went to a convention in Las Vegas, and on the flight back I thought, “Well I really enjoy this style and opening a retro shop is something that I can do.” We opened that fall in Tonawanda. We chose Tonawanda because it’s in the middle, normally we have people from Canada, Cleveland, Rochester and every place in between visit us.
Julie Ann said “I can do this”, but she really could do this. She has a ton of experience working in retail with a business and art history degree.
My art history degree is modern art history. So it’s about 1890 to about 1970, it overlaps the fashion that we’re interested in - the 40s, 50s, and 60s. So I know the art and style and what’s going on in the world during those times, and it all comes together.
I have a degree in Psychology and graphic design. I work as a web developer, that's my day job. I’m able to do some of the marketing, website, and technical stuff that Cats Like Us needs. Plus I have a very similar interest in the 50s and 60s style and music.
Would you elaborate on some of the things that you offer in the shop?
We specialize in retro clothing which is new clothing that looks like vintage clothing. There are some advantages to that. For example, we carry plus sizes in retro clothing (some up to 5X) and a lot of the fashion is classic and flattering for all shapes. The retro clothes are also machine washable and have spandex.
Recently we started carrying true vintage. I used to work in a vintage store, probably 20 years ago, but with true vintage you have to find the pieces, repair them, clean them and the sizing is so different. But there was such a demand in the area for vintage clothing that we decided to start carrying it. The recycling aspect of it is very important to us as well. We save it from landfills! We also carry men’s clothing that is retro and vintage and we carry accessories. We’ve won awards over the years, but the most recent was from 2019. We won an award from Buffalo Spree for Best Funky Accessories.
Your store has a great name. How did you arrive at it and can you tell us about your shop?
In 2009 we went to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender convention in Las Vegas and it’s basically a music show and a car show. It has all the rockabilly subculture to along with it. One of the bands we had liked, the Hillbilly Hellcats, have a song called “Cats Like Us” and that’s kind of where we took the name. The idea behind the song was that it’s about people who are in the know, people like you and me.
How has the pandemic affected business and what regulations have been successful and put into place that may stay in effect at this time?
We have an online store and we’ve had it since we opened. A lot of retro and vintage stores don’t have a website, so we were already at an advantage with that, but we also always had an option when you purchase online to choose in-store pick up. There wasn’t much change to our website, it just became curbside pick up. What we do offer is different kinds of shopping for your comfort level. We do curbside pick up, we take appointments online if you want to shop by yourself Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and we have open hours Fridays and Saturdays 12 to 5 for people who just want to come in and shop. In the store we now have to steam all the clothes, put them into quarantine if they’ve been tried on, and we clean down the fitting rooms after each use. In a way being a small business we have an advantage over larger companies. You can try on clothes because we’ll go in right after and clean. Of course we have hand sanitizer when you walk in and other NYS guideline measures.
There was definitely an effect on the business, but because we have the website and curbside pick up in place we were able to make changes very quickly. I think it didn’t really change how we operate too much, but it did shift hours of operation. We’re open two days a week now and our supporters are our hard core customers who’ve continued to shop with us throughout all of this.
What does a Chamber membership mean to you?
We’re new members to the Niagara USA Chamber because we’re in Erie county and never really thought of joining, but we were attracted because of the fact that the reach goes into Canada. A lot of our customers before the pandemic were coming down to visit us. Plus it brings businesses together. It seems more open to hearing from businesses and exchanging ideas.
To get involved in an large organization and for them to help spread the word and be responsive is beneficial. Anything sort of different and new that we can get excited about and talk up and really connect with, we’re all about trying to do. At the end of the day we’re all here to help each other and we all rise together.
Where can people find you?
Anything to add?
We do in-store events once a month that feature local artists, live demos, fundraisers, and more, and we’ve continued them on our Instagram when they couldn’t be in our shop. You can find more information under “Events” on catslikeus.com