PUNTA GORDA — In the dark bookshelves of Sandman Bookstore, you might notice piercing green eyes watching you.
That’s Kitty-Wan Kenobi, the friendly, extroverted resident cat that enjoys stalking his patrons.
Kitty runs the store with his mom Heidi Lange, who does the actual work while Kitty keeps watch or gives hugs to visitors.
Lange met Kitty in 2009 at the Charlotte County Animal Welfare League. Looking for a cat for the store’s previous location, it was hard to choose. But once Lange opened Kitty’s cage, he got up and hugged Lange.
“Cats don’t just make good bookstore cats, they make great business cats,” said Animal Welfare League’s director Karen Slomba. “People love having cats in their offices and stores ... my office is never without a cat ... what better than to sit down and read with a cat in your lap?”
The now 11-year-old roams the store during business hours, watching patrons while camouflaging into the black bookshelves of his favorite genre: Sci-Fi.
“Like any entrepreneur, he remains aloof from the general public,” said Martin Kerr, a longtime friend of Lange who got married to his wife, Stephanie, in the bookstore.
“He likes to see what’s going on,” Lange said.
Kitty also prides himself as the store’s greeter, and sometimes helps Lange at the front counter.
“He’s really social, an extrovert,” Lange said, as the cat gets along with other animals as well.
He also sits in a different chair each day, as his favorite one changes frequently.
Sandman Books moved to its new location along Duncan Road in Punta Gorda back in July. But Kitty was indifferent to the change.
“He doesn’t care what place he is in,” Lange said. “But he thinks the bookshelves are his home.”
Cats in bookstores aren’t a new thing. It’s actually a tradition spanning back to ancient Egyptian times, as a cat named Myeo was discovered to have protected stacks of scrolls at the Library of Alexandria from pesky mice, according to an essay published by the University of Connecticut. Cats were also kept in monastic libraries for the same duties, according to the British Library, resulting in some library cats leaving their paw prints on some valuable literature, such as a 12th-century copy of Pope Gregory the Great’s letters.
Now Kitty Wan Kenobi protects Sandman’s collection of over 100,000 books, making it the largest independent bookstore in southwest Florida. The collection includes a family bible in Dutch from 1731 and his favorite book “I Could Pee On This And Other Poems By Cats.”
“It’s not a bookstore without a cat,” Lange said.
Sandman Books, 5240 Duncan Road in Punta Gorda, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The bookstore’s next free event is a talk with historian and local author D.L. Havlin about Jacqueline Cochran, the first female pilot to break the sound barrier with many other accomplishments in both aviation and business. The event is 5:30 p.m. (Friday) March 20.
To reserve a spot or learn more about the store or Kitty-Wan Kenobi, call 941-505-1624 or visit www.sandmanbooks.com.