Hey, You’re Cool! Rob Hitt of Bodega Cats
“It isn’t just a funny and cute photo of a cat, but it also shows a person’s hood”
Bodegas are a big deal in New York City. Where else can you cop a bacon, egg and cheese bagel, a Dutch, two bags of chips, a six-pack of Modelo, some Advil, lotto tickets, the 2018 Little Debbie snacks, and the most semitransparent toilet paper you’ve ever seen. My highly unscientific, completely subjective research reveals that 50 percent of the time that you walk into a bodega, you end up picking up something completely unexpected. But what you can bank on with 95 percent certainty is the chance to pet that cute af bodega cat sleeping on some merchandise.
Brooklyn superhero Rob Hitt has been taking that love for corner store cats to social media. His Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts—dubbed Bodega Cats—have blessed us with feline photos that are sweeter than a 50-cent Honey Bun. What started as a few of his own original flicks turned into a mega-feed of shots submitted by bodega frequenters near (Bushwick) and far (Hong Kong).
“When living in Brooklyn or a city in general, it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m in a store and there’s a cat!'” says Hitt, who happens to be a former member of the pop punk band Midtown. “My enjoyment shopping here just went up by like 20 percent because of this cat.”
MASS APPEAL phoned Rob to talk about the start of Bodega Cats, the appeal of cat photos and why a glorified vending machine could never replicate a bodega.
How did you come up with the idea for Bodega Cats?
I was probably drinking one night and walked into a bodega at like 2 a.m. I went to get one of those big sandwiches when I probably should’ve been going to bed. Then I saw a cat and decided to take a photo and post it on Instagram like everybody else does. I noticed how everybody on my feed loved it. People were liking and commenting on it and it made me think that the internet might like this as much as my family and friends do. I created the account and then looked around. There were a couple of accounts doing this already [but] obviously they didn’t care too much about keeping up with it. So I gave it a shot to see if I can turn it into something to bring people happiness. The first few have myself in the photos. After that, everybody started submitting and tagging photos with the account. I just started reposting photos that people sent me.
Were you surprised by that response?
It’s kind cheating, right? You put sex online and people are into it. You put cats online and that’s the other thing that people will always be into. Honestly, it didn’t get momentum at first. When I hit about 30,000 to 40,ooo followers, that’s when it started really picking up and got more interesting.
What part of Brooklyn do you live in now?
Right now, Williamsburg. Before that: Greenpoint, Park Slope and other neighborhoods.
What are the most interesting submissions you’ve received? I saw a few from other countries.
You know it’s odd, YouTube actually sent me a DM on Instagram. I had no idea why they wanted to hit me up and when I replied they hit me back instantly. They just wanted to send me a book and I gave them my address. Turns out, YouTube made a book based off a YouTube series on the street cats of Turkey. It was really the same thing I was posting about New York and Brooklyn, except in Turkey.
To some extent, this cat phenomenon is an urban thing and not necessarily a New York thing as well. The culture of seeing a cat when you walk into a small business becomes the culture of the neighborhood that you’re in. I think that’s why it’s so personal to people and why people find the account so interesting. It isn’t just a funny and cute photo of a cat, but it also shows a person’s hood. When you walk into the bodega, you say hi to the person working there because he is part of your neighborhood, not somebody who is just an employee. I think that’s why it gets under people’s skin when we hear a company saying they want to shutdown a local corner bodega by replacing it with a vending machine. The bodega is part of my community. It isn’t just about the cat, it’s about your neighborhood and when somebody wants to take away your neighborhood that sucks. It’s the same reason why people get frustrated about gentrification because they are taking away something that was comfortable and familiar that was theirs, with somebody else trying to move in on your turf. Small business is extremely important. These are people working day to day, everyday of their lives, and have literally invested every penny in their life to make this business happen.
What’s the best submission you’ve ever received?
There was this one where a man in his 60s was holding a cat in a Home Depot and the cat started attacking the man’s face. It must have hit the recommended posts on Instagram because it’s got like 4.2 million views now. You can kind of spell what people like to see. Big cats always do well. What’s really interesting is that whenever we have a photo of a cat peeking his head out one of those sidewalk cellars, people love it.
Before starting this Instagram account, you were a member of the pop punk band Midtown?
When I was younger—honestly that was a number of years ago. I was in that band from 1998 to 2005. After 2005, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do playing music live. After I moved to Brooklyn, it became more difficult to play drums. I had to go and lug out all my gear from my apartment and head to someone’s basement just to rehearse. If you are a guitar player it’s great. You just sit in your room, play guitar and everybody is happy. So I started managing bands and I did that for the past 10 years until I more recently went back to school for full stack web development. That’s what I’m up to now.
What do you say to the few that don’t like Bodega Cats?
The real answer is, one can choose to have rats/mice in a store, or a cat. You decide! I think the choice is easy here.