In New York City, you’ll find a bodega on every corner, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the local celebrities—a beloved bodega cat. Having a cat in your neighborhood bodega seems like a New Yorker’s birthright. The infamous feud over a one-star Yelp review that cited the bodega cat as a major problem shows just how seriously they take these revered creatures. New Yorkers immediately rushed to the defense of Star, the kitty in question, making the case that the bodega cat is a New York staple not to be messed with. There’s even been a Change.org petition, started by a Brooklynite, urging the mayor to make it legal for cats to be in bodegas. In the comments below the petition, one bodega cat advocate explains: “This is New York. We have cats in bodegas.” And another adds, “Bodega Cats are New Yorkers too.”
So it looks like bodega cats aren’t being evicted any time soon. But what exactly do they do all day? Well, most people claim that they’re working cats whose job is to keep their corner stores rat-free. We’re not sure exactly how much rat catching is actually getting done, but we do know that bodega cats are very busy doing many different important tasks around the store. Why else would they be such valued employees with so many satisfied customers?
To see exactly how these beloved bodega cats fill their days, we sent a photographer to capture some candid shots. Introducing the Brooklyn bodega cats:
Navi 1 and Navi 2 in Greenpoint
Our photographer, Lindsey Johnston, poked her head into this neighborhood deli to ask if there was a resident bodega cat:
“Is there a cat named Navi here?”
“No. He is downstairs asleep. He comes up at 7:00 p.m.”
“Wow, he is on a strict schedule!”
“7 is when he gets fed.”
So she returned at 7 p.m. sharp. Not only did she find “Navi,” but also his gray-coated co-worker, who is also called Navi. Meet Navi 1 and Navi 2.
The clerk we spoke to guesses that Navi 1, the cat with the tuxedo coat pattern, is about 4 or 5 years old. This kitty doesn’t seem to have a very strong work ethic—we’re told he comes and goes as he pleases, and loves sleeping outside on the shelves with the plants. He’s well-known with the neighbors, and his keeper claims that “He owns the store.”
Navi 2 is very timid, and wasn’t even enticed to come out of hiding with a trail of cat treats. Apparently, he started working at this bodega after his original store closed about a year and a half before.
The clerk we spoke to is happy to have the Navis around, keeping him company on the graveyard shift. The cats get along and like to run around the store chasing each other. But they must be fed at the same time, or a fight will break out as they try to steal each other’s dinner.
It turns out they might be working cats after all, but instead of providing rat control; they’re on the marketing team. All it takes is for Navi 1 to settle in on a flower bucket shelf and rest his head on his paws, and people immediately come over for a pet and then disappear inside the store.
The Navi of Williamsburg
Roaming the aisles of a large bodega in Williamsburg, you’ll find yet another Navi. This corner store might carry a variety of unique items (like jackfruit and baby purple potatoes) that you wouldn’t usually find in a bodega, but they also have something you’ll find in most—their own resident bodega cat. They have two, but only Navi was on duty on this particular afternoon. Lindsey found him asleep on the job, though.
An empty cardboard box that recently held organic jasmine green tea made the perfect napping spot for Navi. As customers and regulars filed past, some stopped to give him a quick pet, and others decided to let him sleep. At the fresh veggie juice counter, several cat-themed signs were prominently displayed.
The woman making juices smiled and chatted with customers who were waiting, and the man at the checkout counter greeted customers by name. Lindsey felt a sense of happiness in the air as everyone in the store seemed to be friends. It was clear that Navi was surrounded by love.
Roy From South Slope
Voted as the friendliest bodega cat by those who meet him, Roy started his career young. He’s only 9 months old, and he’s worked in his store for 8 months. In his bodega, Roy’s job is to be your personal shopper. As the sign says, “for your shopping convenience,” Roy is there waiting for you in the handheld baskets as soon as you walk in.
Lindsey discovered that you can pay for Roy’s services in treats. He’ll guide you through the beer aisle, help test the quality of the bagged rolls, find you the best vodka cream sauce and pick out the most appealing iced cake.
As our photographer snapped photos that captured Roy’s shiny coat and big, curious eyes, customers would stop to remark on his beauty. Stunning looks and an outgoing personality—there’s nothing more you can ask for in a bodega cat. “And he’s the friendliest you’re gonna meet, guaranteed!” adds his owner.
These bodega cats are neighborhood fixtures—a special kind of working cats that add a little more character to each bodega. If you’re still not convinced, take it from Lindsey Johnston, a New Yorker who discovered the value of these hardworking and heartwarming felines in each community:
“When I started this project, I assumed cats were kept around just to keep mice away. After spending time with these bodega cats, I realize they serve a much higher purpose. I have never talked to complete strangers in bodegas the way I have working on this project. By simply existing, these quiet animals bring smiles to the customers and bodega owners alike. People are drawn to this innocent animal with no agenda, resting in a corner or swirling around customer’s ankles to say hello. They create a sense of peace, melting our hearts and tearing down our walls. Resting in their boxes and bins, these creatures serve a quiet purpose of connecting us despite our isolated bubbles of smartphones and urban anonymity, reminding us of our humanity.”
If you’re looking for more great pics of bodega cats, check these out:
Nikki Naser, BeChewy Senior Editor
Instead of owning 30 cats, Nikki has an impressive collection of 30 cat-themed T-shirts, and just 4 pets—a ginger-haired senior cat, a senior Maine Coon, a middle-aged Choodle, and a young kitty who showed up one day on the back steps. A former Orlando resident, Nikki worked on several tourism publications before moving to South Beach. When she’s not stopping to take pics of community cats to post on Instagram, Nikki spends her time with the office pets at Chewy, writing for their BeChewy blog.