Businesses of Chestertown: Cat Colloquium
By Ellen Uzelac
Heard about Cat Colloquium, High Street’s new happy place? If you haven’t, you will.
First, what it’s not. Cat Colloquium is not a cat café or a cat shelter. It’s a playful, whimsical space designed to support the community’s well-being – in the company of nine resident cats, all rescues.
“We want to do for others. This is just a unique way of doing it,” says Laura Johnstone Wilson, executive director of the non-profit, located above Stam’s Luncheonette at 215 High St. “It’s really a very simple idea. We want to engage and support other non-profits while also providing a fur-ever home to our cats.”
Cat Colloquium opened its doors to the public in June. Among its goals: to raise funds for community groups in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, to provide a meeting space for connection and collaboration, to create volunteer opportunities for middle and high school students.
Wilson is also considering establishing a Chestertown 4-H club for cat care. Members would meet in the space and use the Colloquium’s cats as their teachers. “If you learn about a cat, you can take it to a dog, a chicken. You can transfer those skills to other animals,” she says. “You’re learning responsibility.”
Want to practice cat yoga? Read tales to the cats? Take a cat nap? Watch Cat TV? (Yep, Cat TV. It’s a thing). That happens at Cat Colloquium, too.
And it’s not just the what that makes Cat Colloquium one-of-a-kind. It’s the where. The building famously housed Stam’s Drugstore, beloved for its ice cream, until its closure in late 2016. Today, the recently opened luncheonette features homemade ice cream while above it state-of-the-art space includes a soon to be screened in “catio” planted in catnip and an extraordinary cat-scratching tree inspired by an origami-style stick figure tree that Cat Colloquium founder Wendy Culp saw at a cat café in Tokyo.
Culp bought the Stam’s building in 2017 and renovated it to house, as she puts it, kittens and cream. “I loved the building. I loved the ice cream and the fact that it was such a community-based place,” says Culp, “So many of the High Street businesses had closed – the rug shop, the newspaper stand, the shoe store. Stam’s closing was the last straw for me. Okay, I thought, there has to be ice cream on High Street.”
Ice cream – and cats.
Creating Cat Space as a Passion
For years, Culp, an ardent cat lover, had nurtured the idea of creating a non-profit cat space. Cat Colloquium, by design, remains a work in progress.
“I really don’t have an end goal in mind. We want to keep coming up with ways to use the space to benefit the community. Maybe we support a charity of the month where the proceeds from a kitty cone go to that organization. Maybe there’s a second grade that needs a fundraiser for new art supplies. What can we do to help? I can see ice cream parties, renting the space out for women and wine nights, cat yoga,” she adds. “We’re trying to help others and I think it will always evolve in terms of supporting others.”
Notably, the full amount of any donation will be pushed to the recipient organizations. One upcoming beneficiary: Animal Shelter for Kent County, which donated Posey, Buster, George and Eliot, the Cat Colloquium’s first four residents.
“If we can make eight or 12 cats’ lives better and touch even a few people in a profound way, that’s what we are trying to do,” Culp says. “Small gestures can have a big impact.”
Want to Visit? Here’s How
Hours: Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 11-5. Sunday, 11-2. Closed Tuesday.
Do I have to pay to visit? Admission is free.
Is there an age limit? Anyone under the age of eight must be accompanied by an adult.
Do I need a reservation? Normally, you could just drop in. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, reservations are required. At the moment, visits are being restricted to individuals and family units. Hand sanitizer is available. Masks are required. To make a reservation, visit www.catcolloquium.org or call 410 778 MEOW (6369).
About that ice cream: Stam’s Luncheonette is open 11-3 Thursday-Monday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. In addition to homemade ice cream, the menu includes hot dogs, French fries, veggie burgers, grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches.
Chestertown freelance journalist Ellen Uzelac is a former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun.