New Emmaus boutique offers purr-fect finds for cats and their human companions

A new boutique in Emmaus is sure to become the cat’s meow.

Purr Haus, 27 S. Seventh St., offers what owner Laurie Mason describes as “the best stuff for cats and the people who love them.” The shop opened on Nov. 27 across from the CVS drive-thru in space that previously housed an office and prior to that, an antique shop. Its name is a nod to the Lehigh Valley’s rich German American history.

For felines, Purr Haus offers a wide selection of cat supplies, including beds, bowls, carriers and toys. For human companions, there’s cat-themed apparel and accessories, such as T-shirts, dresses, leggings, and winter hats, as well as glassware, greeting cards and umbrellas.

A section is devoted to cat treats, such as dried sardines and tuna flakes. Another section has grooming supplies handy for when it’s bath and brush time with shampoo and holistic flea-prevention solutions.

Items patrons could have a difficult time finding at big-box retailers include matching blankets for owners and their cats and organic catnip toys adorned with images of popular TV shows like “The Golden Girls” and “Schitt’s Creek.” The shop also has a backpack cat carrier with a window, making cats appear to look like astronauts while traveling to the veterinarian.

There’s also housewares decorated by area artists who donate a portion of their profits to animal shelters, and products encouraging house cats to unleash their inner tiger through play. Guests listen to cat-themed tunes, such as “Kitty Kat” by Beyonce and “What’s New Pussycat” by Tom Jones. A sign, stating, “Tell me about your cats,” gets shoppers sharing personal stories with Mason.

“Customers eyes light up when they see it, and we always have a great chat,” said Mason, a Bucks County native now living in Upper Milford Township. “They show me pictures and we laugh about their silly antics. When you think about it, there really aren’t many places where ‘cat people’ can talk to others who share their passion.”

On one occasion, Mason allowed a cat to wander loose around the shop during a private appointment with a patron. The kitty picked out his own bed, toys and backpack carrier, Mason said.

Mason and her husband, Tim Schroeder, were always self-described cat lovers, owning them for decades throughout their lives. The couple currently owns four cats and is fostering another three through the Lehigh Valley-based nonprofit organization, Starting Over Animal Rescue (SOAR).

But they’ll tell you it wasn’t until 2011 that they found a new passion in rescuing homeless cats across the Lehigh Valley.

Upon buying their first home, Mason found a cat in the backyard with three newborn kittens. Before she could find a way to catch the feral felines and get them adopted, the mother cat was pregnant again. Mason and Schroeder found zero luck in the help of area animal shelters with most telling them they were full or had empty bank accounts, Mason said.

“As someone who always considered herself knowledgeable about cats, it was humbling to learn how much I didn’t know about the rescue world,” Mason said. “We see free roaming cats in our communities and think they’re surviving by catching mice and living their best outdoor life. The reality is that most of them are starving, they’re dying from diseases, and being hit by cars. It’s a mostly miserable existence made worse by overpopulation.”

Eventually, a friend with rescue connections helped Mason trap the mother cat and get her into a foster home, where she later delivered the kittens safely. Mason kept the remaining two kittens indoors.

“Kittens born outside suffer,” Mason said. “The volunteers who trap these cats and get them vaccinated and fixed are angels on Earth that don’t get the support they deserve.”

As a journalist working for local newspapers, Mason was able to write pieces on the side about Lehigh Valley’s animal welfare organizations. She initially set out to become a teacher but a journalism course turned her onto writing while attending Bucks County Community College. Mason graduated with an associate’s degree in liberal arts in 1996.

Sometimes, there were harder news stories with similar messages about animal rescue. One that stands out to Mason was when she covered the tale of Nemo, a pig, who escaped a devastating barn fire that killed 4,000 animals in Lynn Township in 2019.

Mason additionally found refuge in her pets after a long day in the newsroom covering breaking news. At times, the only thing that would allow her to decompress enough to sleep was holding a purring cat in her lap, she said.

“I often joke that when I write my autobiography, I’m going to title it ‘From Murder to Meow,’ ” said Mason, referring to her coverage of homicide cases. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who find having cats around to be therapeutic.”

Mason last year retired from the newspaper industry to help spark her goal in opening the boutique. It was something that had been in the back of her mind since attending to a cat convention in Asbury Park, New Jersey in 2008 with her husband.

At the convention, there were crowds of people waiting on long lines to get in. Vendors were performing brisk sales on small-batch cat supplies. Mason saw a need for something similar in the area, noting some places carry aisle after aisle of dog supplies with just a corner dedicated to cat items.

“I realized … ‘cat people’ like me enjoyed shopping alongside like-minded folks for products that were not only cool, but also supported a cause,” Mason said.

At the boutique, Mason works hard in finding merchandise that sets her apart from the competition.

She’s picked up “Dezi and Roo” cat toys, which are designed by veterinarians, as well as T-shirts from “Kittees,” a woman-owned, California-based company that donates a percentage of profits to no-kill shelters.

The main focus of the business right now is on brick-and-mortar, Mason stressed. This allows her to change up inventory frequently while supporting small batch makers who can’t fulfill orders big enough for online sales. Also, shopping at the boutique, she said, is an “experience” and not something you can achieve online.

Mason has future plans to incorporate more cat rescue missions into the business. She invites rescue groups to visit with a few adoptable kittens on specific days in an area off the boutique. The groups also have a chance to leave educational brochures and drum up membership.

Mason also wants to partner with other local businesses, such as breweries, for cat rescue fundraisers. She additionally plans to donate a portion of every Purr Haus logo T-shirt and baseball cap sale to a featured cat rescue organization.

“Cat people are a passionate breed. They don’t just care about their own pets, but are concerned with the plight of all cats,” Mason said. “I imagine Purr Haus eventually becoming a hub for the Valley’s cat community. A place where you can pick up a great new toy for your cat, or a fun cat-themed gift for a friend, all while learning how to help local cats in need.”

The boutique is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Please subscribe now and support the local journalism YOU rely on and trust.

Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at [email protected].