CITY OF TONAWANDA — At the corner of Broad and Main Street in the City of Tonawanda, customers are met by the image of a young, busty woman donning a pair of cat ears and a 1950s flip hairdo. “Cats Like Us,” the sign reads next to her. She flashes you a flirtatious grin that says, “Take a peek.”
Inside the store, racks of ladies’ uniquely-patterned 1940s day and evening dresses mingle with each other on the black and white checkerboard linoleum floor. Fifties-inspired men’s bowling and work shirts decorated in rocker skulls hang out together near the dressing room. An aqua-blue ceiling with demure lighting is found above and rockabilly tunes play in the background, sending soothing vibes into the social atmosphere.
This party draws an eclectic crowd.
Cats Like Us co-owners Julie Ann and Andrew Davis have built up an extensive fan base by offering a rare collection of rockabilly-inspired clothing they say can be hard to find anywhere else.
With more than 40,000 Facebook fans, their brand has also reached both local and global success through a bustling flow of cyber traffic on the Cats Like Us website.
The website features more than 100 alternative fashion brands specializing in everything from intricately-crafted, wooden picnic basket-shaped purses and turquoise and raspberry-colored crinoline to handmade biker belt buckles and zebra print dress ties.
Exclusivity draws customers in. So does constant social media marketing.
“In this day and age marketing is constant, whether it’s updating our website to rank higher in search engines, running banner ads on websites, making Facebook posts daily, adding pictures to our Pinterest page, it’s constant. It has to be,” Julie Ann said.
A lot of buying on the website comes from customers in California and Texas, and strangely, Andrew revealed, a majority of purchases also come from people in Australia.
“Other than in the U.S., there are large groups of vintage, rockabilly style enthusiasts in England, Europe and Australia. In England and Europe there are several brands of clothing produced. We are not aware of any brands produced in Australia,” he said. “People in England and Europe buy locally produced product because shipping overseas is expensive. People in Australia have to pay shipping from anywhere, so they will often shop on best value alone or style they are looking for.”
For the uninitiated local customers, Julie Ann and Andrew say they are often asked about the difference between retro and vintage clothing. The idea behind retro is to update looks from the past to make them more modern, Julie Ann said.
“Older people will come in here and say, ‘I get the 40s and 50s (merchandise), but what’s with the skulls?’ We bring in the skulls because that’s the rockabilly end of it,” Julie Ann said. “To make a piece edgier, we make it in a weird pattern, make it a little bit different just to tweak it just a little bit.”
Retro clothing is also made in fabrics that contain a little bit more stretch. Vintage clothing often requires more delicate care and washing.
“What’s nice is that the retro fabrics are stretchy, where vintage clothes never had spandex. Some of our brands go up to 3X and 4X in modern sizing, so we can accommodate a larger size,” she said.
Many of the garments featured online and in-store are exclusive, made-to-order pieces designed by an unusual mix of names like Dolly Valentine, Lucky Mule, Lipstick Vogue and Zombie Kitten.
“A lot of the dress vendors will send me the style and I can pick out which fabric I want it in and they make it for us,” Julie Ann said. “Some designers we work directly with and tell them what we want, bounce ideas back and forth until we come up with a product that both of us love and are pleased with.”
The retro boutique offers both men and women’s apparel. Dresses typically range between $80 and $90 and men’s shirts are typically between $20 and $60. Many accessories are a steal at under $20.
Cats Like Us is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Monday and Tuesday by appointment.