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Metropolis / So SoCal

Catnip for Collectors in Little Tokyo.

July 14, 2002|GINNY CHIEN

'Eccentric' doesn't begin to describe Magic Cat, Michiko Kishimoto's 4-year-old shop in Little Tokyo. Along with nearly every conceivable cat collectible under the sun, the 67-year-old proprietor also stocks Elvis memorabilia and Kurosawa videos because, well, she can.

Granted, the two entertainers had cat-related nicknames (Elvis was often referred to as the 'Hillbilly Cat,' while she says some called director Akira Kurosawa 'Kool Kat'). But, bottom line, the inventory at Magic Cat is a reflection of Kishimoto's idiosyncratic tastes. She handpicks everything for the store, down to the Kurosawa films on DVD and the 'Elvisopoly' board game. 'The King is my favorite,' Kishimoto says. 'I still think he's alive somewhere!'

Nonetheless, cat merchandise is her bread and butter. Thousands of knick-knacks are shoehorned into the tiny shop: kitschy T-shirts, rare woodblock prints, lucky Japanese cat statues, Felix magnets, Tom and Jerry postcards, you name it.

One famous feline is noticeably absent, however-Sanrio's Hello Kitty. 'I won't carry any Hello Kitty things,' says Kishimoto, who started accumulating cat trinkets as a teenager. 'Everyone has it already. What's the fun in that?'

Before setting up shop, Kishimoto and her exhaustive collection had been on the road for nearly 30 years, doing business at pet shows all over the West; she still loads up her van every few weeks for shows in Southern California. Shortly after opening Magic Cat-and at an age when many folks are thinking about how to spend their retirement days-she took a computer class at a local church and commissioned an e-commerce site.

Kishimoto has fancied cats for as long as she can remember. In fact, her earliest baby picture showcases Kishimoto in a stroller next to the family cat in San Onofre. She currently lives in Boyle Heights with a black tabby named (what else?) Elvis Jr. (Elvis Sr. died about four years ago). 'I don't make a lot of money,' Kishimoto says, 'but I'm happy when [customers bring their] cats to my booth.'

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