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Keeping things cozy at the Radical Cat in Midtown Reno

A tortoiseshell tabby cat sits on the right side of the frame in front of a grey couch.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
Sasha the cat was one of the adoptable felines hosted by the Radical Cat bookstore and cat lounge in Midtown Reno, Nev., in December 2022.

A new bookstore and cat adoption lounge in Midtown Reno offers an inclusive space during uncertain times.

On a recent Saturday, Mallory Wakefield met Sasha, an outgoing two-year-old tortoiseshell tabby, at the Radical Cat, a feminist bookstore and cat adoption lounge that opened last March on Wells Avenue in Reno.

Sasha, a former stray from Fallon with a clipped ear and big green eyes, was being offered for adoption at the Radical Cat through a partnership with the SPCA of Northern Nevada. She strolled back and forth in front of Wakefield, purring and kneading the air, one paw at a time.

“You look a little wild, Sasha,” Wakefield said admiringly. “She’s got the edge.”

Part of the Radical Cat’s mission is to have Wakefield and other visitors help socialize adoptable cats – even if they’re not planning to take one home. Wakefield already has a cat named Jasper and explained she’s drawn to cats because they know how to set boundaries.

“They know their limits. They know who they like,” she said. “They know what they want.”

On that day, the store was packed with holiday shoppers browsing shelves filled with books on everything from the lives of wild birds to anarchist philosophy. Local vendors had set up tables as part of Hi Dez, a pop-up holiday market.

RoMar Tolliver sits on the left side of the frame, reading a book aloud. On the right, a dad sits with his two small children.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
RoMar Tolliver (left) reads a book about social justice during a free children’s story time at the Radical Cat in Midtown Reno, Nev., in December 2022.

There was also a free children’s story time, where RoMar Tolliver, president of the nonprofit Black Wall Street Reno, was reading a book about racial justice called Something Happened in Our Town to a small group of kids and their parents.

Tolliver says it’s good to see children’s books dealing with more advanced themes because it can help kids understand the world around them.

“They’re exposed to a lot more, being on the phones and social media,” he said. “Kids see what we see and it’s hard for them to digest a lot of things.”

Rosie Zuckerman says one of the benefits of spending time with cats is they can help people deal with stressful situations, too.

“I’ve always appreciated the positive impact of hanging out with animals – cats, in this case – on one’s mental health,” she said.

Zuckerman started helping cats find new homes four years ago. Back then, she ran Pussycat NV, an adoption pop-up at the Holland Project, an all-ages arts and music initiative. But Zuckerman wanted to find a way to host more adoption events while also keeping the cat lounge free and accessible to people who can’t afford to have their own pets.

“I had this fantasy of opening a place where you could come hang out with cats, and it would be sort of mutually beneficial between the cats and the people,” she explained.

To do that, she needed to pair the adoption space with a retail business that could sustain both. Cat cafes have popped up all over in the last few years, including the Enchanted Cat Café, which opened in South Reno in Jan. 2022.

The three co-owners of the Radical Cat stand in the center of the frame. They are looking toward the camera while smiling. Shelves with books can be seen behind them.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
Melissa Hafey (from left), Ilya Arbatman and Rosie Zuckerman of the Radical Cat in Midtown Reno, Nev., in December 2022.

However, it’s hard to run a food business that includes animals. So, Zuckerman, along with co-owners Ilya Arbatman, Melissa Hafey and Mike Hafey, went looking for another approach. Arbatman explained that they considered a few different approaches before settling on books.

“It’s easier than working with food, obviously,” he said.

But Arbatman says they’re trying to make the Radical Cat more than just a cat lounge with a bookshop attached. The selection is curated to highlight authors and themes that aren’t typically represented in mainstream literature.

“The books, in a way – they’re very important, of course – but they kind of represent the larger idea of having a place that’s inclusive,” he explained.

Melissa Hafey, the Radical Cat’s third co-owner, says Reno used to have an LGBTQ bookstore, but it’s long gone.

“I remembered those spaces from when I was young,” she said. “Now my kids are 18 and 21, and I wanted them to have a space like that.”

Now that hate speech and violence against marginalized groups are on the rise, Melissa Hafey believes the community needs that kind of inclusive space more than ever. She added that since they opened, they’ve been getting positive feedback from customers and community members who are drawn to the Radical Cat’s carefully-curated selection.

“I am glad that the bookstore’s here, and I hope that people can come and find books that help them respond to the current moment,” she said.

A black-painted storefront features a mural on the windows of a woman reading a book and cats in spaceships.
Bert Johnson
KUNR Public Radio
The Radical Cat opened last March in Midtown Reno, Nev., and can be seen here in December 2022.

That’s part of what keeps Kyra Bruesewitz, who uses they/them pronouns, coming back.

“Every time I’ve come in, it’s been super welcoming,” they said. “There’s always been super cool knick-knacks and books and plants around. And the cats are always super sweet.”

Bruesewitz also said that at the end of the day, cats and books just go together.

“When you’re sitting down, they just are like, ‘Oh, you’re chillin’. I’m gonna come either play with you and bug you and make sure you can’t read, or I’m gonna come sit on your lap and vibe with you.’ ”

Zuckerman agrees. Whether it’s the simple pleasure of reading a good book or spending time with a furry friend, she believes you can sum it all up with one word:

“It’s cozy,” she said.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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