Outlook 2021: Cat-themed shop flourishing after pandemic move to Schenectady Trading Company

Tanya Hall holds Mika in the Spicy Purrito Shop at the Schenectady Trading Co. on Union Street in Schenectady
Tanya Hall holds Mika in the Spicy Purrito Shop at the Schenectady Trading Co. on Union Street in Schenectady

Published Feb. 25, 2021 in Outlook

Like thousands of other business owners across the country, longtime Rotterdam resident Tonya Hall was forced to change how she reached her customers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But thankfully for Hall, it created an opportunity she might not have otherwise had.

In October, Schenectady got its first cat-themed gift shop when Hall opened her business, The Spicy Purrito, selling catnip toys in an array of fabrics and sizes inside the Schenectady Trading Company on Union Street.

“The pandemic has affected everyone and, for me, not being able to be in-person with my customers had a pretty big effect on me mentally,” said Hall, who primarily sold her catnip toys at local craft fairs prior to COVID-19. “I jumped at the opportunity to expand to the Schenectady Trading Company, and it’s been great to have a space that is dedicated to just my stuff.”

Catnip, a perennial herb that has a leafy green appearance, contains an essential oil called nepetalactone that triggers the “happy” receptors in the feline brain when smelled and has the opposite effect when inhaled, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

When Hall first launched her business in 2017, she only sold handmade catnip toys. However, expanding to the Schenectady Trading Company allowed her to add an array of cat-themed items, such as wooden signs with phrases like, “All you need is love and a cat.”

“I’ve always been a cat lover, and this is the perfect combination of my love of cats and selling,” she said of her business. “[Since expanding], more customers have been introduced to my stuff, and my existing customers have been introduced to the Schenectady Trading Company.”

‘So exciting’

Owner Caroline Bardwell opened the Schenectady Trading Company nearly two years ago with the intention of focusing solely on selling products that originated in Schenectady County.

“I felt there should be a place that made it convenient to shop local year-round that highlighted everything from manufacturers to local artisans to small food producers and colleges,” Bardwell said.

According to Bardwell, though she was selling a variety of goods on consignment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, like Hall, it forced her to rethink her business approach.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“The spaces that were meant for the public to promote local attractions and programming — for kids to play, people to sip coffee and read the newspaper — were unused for months,” Bardwell said. “I decided to advertise that I was looking for a few renters, and Tonya jumped on the chance to grow her retail presence into something more serious.”

As a result of Bardwell’s decision to rent spaces, Schenectady Trading Company customers now have access to additional products.

“It’s made it so a customer is more likely to think of me as a one-stop shop,” she said. “I have groceries, personal-care products and everyday items, so it’s become more than just a place people visit when they need a present for someone.”

Hall said she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when she opened a space inside the Schenectady Trading Company.

“I didn’t know how many people would go out shopping during the pandemic but it’s exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It’s been humbling to see customers of mine rooting for me and being introduced to new customers, too.”

Bardwell said she’s fortunate to be able to offer small businesses like The Spicy Purrito additional product visibility and to connect them with more customers.

“I want to show the public that they don’t have to travel out of town to find things or purchase them online,” Bardwell said. “I aspire to connect the producer and consumer in a meaningful way and provide some insight into what shoppers are buying, so they better understand how their dollars are valued.”

Since opening at the Schenectady Trading Company, Hall, who also works full time at the New York State Lottery in Schenectady, has joined the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce and spends most of her free time making inventory for The Spicy Purrito.

“It’s been busy, but so exciting,” she said. “This is my baby, and I’ve put my whole heart and soul into it, so to see it succeed has been amazing.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Capital Region Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Eagan said that while being a small business owner can be lonely, the chamber connects members with important resources as well as linking them with other business owners who can offer support and advice.

“There are still people who are contacting us during this time for business and it’s amazing and motivating,” Eagan said. “If they open now and are successful, their opportunities post-pandemic are limitless.”

Eagan added that he hopes business owners don’t give up hope during this tough time.

“When you don’t know where to turn or you have a question, you can call the chamber,” he said. “You don’t have to be a member for us to help you. If we don’t have the answer, we’ll do all we can to find it.”

Staying local

Hall’s business has come a long way since the first few months of the pandemic. “When the pandemic first hit, there wasn’t much of an incentive to create, so I took a few months off to figure out the next steps,” she said. “I eventually got my motivation back and started creating again.”

The pandemic has taught Hall several lessons as a business owner. “It made me really pay attention and be creative with how I reach customers,” she said. “You have to pivot your business when something changes, and I learned I’m capable of doing that and I succeeded at it.”

In the future, she’d like to expand The Spicy Purrito even more.

“I’d love to have my own stand-alone shop and possibly partner with an animal shelter to host adoptions,” she said. “I would love to be part of the community, and for it to stay local.”

Hall’s commitment to “stay local” stems from her love of upstate New York. “I’ve been in Rotterdam for over half of my life and my whole family is here, so I feel very connected to the area,” she said. “I would love to make my business more than just a shop people buy things from, but a bigger part of the community.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Categories: Business, News, Outlook 2021, Schenectady County

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