On many days in the last several years, the Raven Book Store’s customers could walk in and expect to find a black cat waiting by the door or sitting in someone’s lap on the store’s couch.
Ngaio, the 13-year-old resident bookstore cat, has greeted and accompanied customers for 10 years. This week, store owner Danny Caine announced her retirement from bookstore life.
Ngaio and Dashiell, the store’s second cat, were both adopted from the Lawrence Humane Society more than a decade ago and have been fixtures of the bookstore since. Both of their names come from classic authors — Ngaio Marsh and Dashiell Hammett — honoring the mystery genre that has always been central to the store.
Caine said Ngaio lives up to the mysterious aspect of her name, often disappearing. While Dashiell is gregarious and talkative, Caine said, Ngaio has a much milder temperament — sometimes called “regal,” and other times referred to as “scheming or plotting.” The two cats complemented each other, and having them around boosts morale for customers and booksellers alike.
“We work really hard at the Raven to be a nice place to be and a comfortable and safe place to hang out,” Caine said. “I think that having the cats there makes it feel a little bit more like home. It gives folks something to look forward to, or even a reason to come into the store — to say hi to the cats.”
Ngaio and Dashiell have gathered a following among the community and the store’s customers over the years, often making appearances on the Raven’s social media. Among stores like the Dusty Bookshelf and Wonder Fair, Caine said they fit well into the shop cat culture of downtown Lawrence.
“It’s just part of the Mass Street experience,” Caine said. “We see parents all the time who are just spending an afternoon taking their kids to see the shop pets. It’s just something that’s uniquely small business and uniquely Lawrence, I think.”
Ngaio is also known to be snuggly with shoppers, Caine said, especially during colder months. Though some cats are known to become less friendly with age, he said, Ngaio has become nicer and more curious about people and the world around her.
Before the store moved to its new location at 809 Massachusetts St. this year, Ngaio would often wait for customers at the Seventh Street location to sit on the store’s couch, then climb into their laps, “trapping” them by napping there for up to an hour.
“There’s nothing like sitting in the Raven on a chilly afternoon and having this tiny little cat fall asleep on you,” Caine said.
Ngaio became a wanderer in the last year as well, sometimes sneaking out of the store to explore and turning up at neighboring businesses. This was part of what ultimately made Ngaio’s retirement a good idea as it became less safe for her to wander around busier parts of downtown after they moved, Caine said, but it also made for some funny moments.
Dashiell will stick around the bookstore for the foreseeable future, but Ngaio is moving into a Raven bookseller’s home, where she will be the only pet, as the store prepares for the busy holiday season.
Though she might still explore Massachusetts Street every once in a while, Caine said Ngaio’s retirement will likely consist of other, more tranquil activities.
“Hopefully a lot of naps in the sun,” he said, “and hopefully lots of peace and quiet.”