The 3-year-old business may resemble a pet store, but Katy Poitras calls it a big foster home for the cats she and her business partner, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, care for before they're taken home by feline fans. A dozen cats have the run of play areas on two floors of the shop.
"We have a lot of people who come because maybe one member of the family is allergic to cats but the rest of the family wants to spend time with cats," she said.
Poitras decided to establish a cat cafe when she lived in Charleston, South Carolina, and noticed how the concept caught on there. She did some research, found that the idea originated in Japan where it's extremely popular, and decided to establish Cat Tales on the most traveled street in Chapel Hill, directly across the street from Carolina Brewery, her husband's business.
Where do the cats come from?
"We're partnering with Independent Animal Rescue in Durham, and they're getting cats from all different situations. They're very involved in TNR, which is the trapping, neutering and returning of community cats," she said.
She said that service helps keep the population of feral cats from exploding as their mating seasons arrive. The cats in the cafe all get along after she works with Independent Animal Rescue to avoid any aggressive animals that aren't socialized.
She says many people willingly pay for some time with the cats.
"It's $10 a person for an hour of cat time during the week, and $12 on the weekends. You come in with your friends, a date, by yourself," she said.
And the cats serve another purpose in the college town. Time spent with them can help relieve stress for busy professionals.
"A hundred percent! We always get parents calling to buy gift cards during exam week, which is really sweet," she said.
Her dedication to the cafe has led to nearly 400 adoptions, fueled in part by the layout of the building. The cats are kept behind a transparent wall, the places where they romp, play and interact with humans are kept squeaky clean and there's no litter box smell because they're kept out of sight behind a solid wall with cat-sized entry portals.
During our visit, the cats were friendly and fearless. Some curious ones walked right up to our camera.
If you're interested in a visit, reservations are a must. You can make them by visiting https://cattalescatcafe.com/
Cat Tales is at 431 W. Franklin St., Suite 210, and is open every day except Monday.