It may seem like the prefix to a joke, but it isn’t. Two black women, sisters at that, own a sex store in Chicago.
But don’t call it a “sex store.”
“We are the Cat’s Meow, a ‘Pamper Me’ boutique,” said Rame—who describes herself as office operations and decorator and goes by a single name—half of the sister act who runs the boutique, located at 6107 S. King Drive. “We are not a sex store. We refer to ourselves as a “pamper me” boutique because we cater to the entire person. It’s not just about sex.”
The Cat’s Meow is based on the belief of the feline representing the “best of the best,” according to Rame.
“We are African-American sisters,” said Rame. “The cat, the feline in Africa represents all that. It’s a testament to who we are.”
Rame and DiP—who deals with day-to-day operations and also prefers the single name—have owned the Cat’s Meow for a little over seven years. They have been at their sole location for the entire duration, which has been described by many as a rough neighborhood.
“We’re in a quote-unquote rough neighborhood, some customers call it a rough neighborhood, and [customers] come in and are quite surprised,” said Rame. “They are absolutely amazed that we are so very nice. A lady made a comment about that, stating that it is a low-income neighborhood.”
Operating in a low-income neighborhood, Rame and DiP have had their fair share of trials while maintaining their store, especially when it comes to vandalism.
“Having been here seven years, we have had broken windows. We had our windows broken maybe about eight months ago,” said Rame. “I want to think that when the windows were broken–two windows were broken–nothing, nothing was stolen. Behind that, I didn’t even board up. We just replaced the glass and kept going.”
Despite their location, Rame does not fear the neighborhood. She takes minimal security measures when it comes to the Cat’s Meow.
“Unlike the other neighborhoods, we stand out in that respect because we do not act like we’re afraid to be here,” said Rame. “The point I’d like to make is that we do not have any burglar shutters on our door or on our windows. We wanted to truly be part of a community and let the community see who we are and what we are and what we do.”
The location is one thing that makes the Cat’s Meow stand out, which Rame says is the reason other sex stores send their customers to them.
“We’re small, however we stock a lot and there are two other toy stores on the South Side and they actually send their customers to us when they don’t have whatever their customers are looking for,” said Rame. “We are a bit larger than they are, but we stock probably three times as much as they do.”
The Cat’s Meow, per Rame, has popular products amongst its “Afrocentric” selection. Chocolate or mulatto-colored dildos are what some customers will specifically come in for. Another popular seller is the tried-and-true cock ring, as well as the basic bullet.
A typical customer for the Cat’s Meow is African-American, said Rame, because they cater mostly to people living on the South Side, though the reach extends to the West- and North sides as well.
“We do our secondary customers, Hispanic,” said Rame. “We have a minor European population coming in, but our primary customer is African-American.”
The boutique launched its own website in 2007, where, buyers can purchase fetish clothing, dildos, and movies.
Though the sisters have endured a lot since opening, nothing has hit them as hard as the recession, which has greatly impacted their sales.
“One would say, or you often hear ‘sex is recession-proof.’ However, we do attend the seminars and the shows and we have come to understand that although we can rebound that the sales are down industry-wise,” explained Rame. “We are doing better each year and we’re doing respectively better each month. Some months are better than others, but some months we expect to be better than other months.”
Rame said most of her store’s business comes on the weekdays.
“Monday and Thursday are our top days,” said Rame. “Somebody suggested that it’s because they’re planning or getting ready for the weekend. Other times, they messed up over the weekend and they want to go out on Monday and make it right.”
While they sell many items related to sex, the sisters do not like to think of The Cat’s Meow as a sex store. They prefer to focus on the entire person, with sex just being one important element.
“We are not a sex store. That’s just about having sex. That could be about wham, bam, thank you ma’am,” said Rame. “We have other things that can be related, but again we are catering to the entire body.”
Future endeavors for the Cat’s Meow include a revamping of the website, more usage of social media, and booking more parties.
“Whether they come by way of the website or they come by way of the store, that’s our goal to book more parties, but that’s tangential to having more independent representatives, meaning a Cat’s Meow representative selling independently and with that, we anticipate more parties.” said Rame.
As of now, the sisterly duo has been enjoying almost eight years thriving in a low-income neighborhood, rife with crime and little competition, and they are a sign of a national trend towards businesses owned by black women.
According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, The Cat’s Meow is part of a growing trend in minority- and women owned businesses. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of businesses owned by black women increased by 75 percent the largest gain among all ethnic groups.
“There used to be another sex store on 87th and Ashland–they closed up–and there was one in the mall on 95th and Western and they closed up,” said Rame. “So we keep on growing and going.”