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Englewood's Strangest Store

From An Article Published By The Englewood Sun - Herald


Englewood’s ‘strangest store’ supports rescued cats

 By Pattie Mihalik

Rick Kingston runs what could arguably be called Englewood’s strangest store.

“It’s weird,” he agrees as he points out the merchandise at Puffy Paws Donation and Storage Center, located just off San Casa Road in Englewood.

Actually, it’s not a store in any traditional sense of the word.

The “store front” is the open door of a storage unit, which is why Kingston’s says he can’t call it a store. “We have to say it’s a donation and storage center.” And the merchandise is the oddest assortment of items.

A banner proclaiming FREE STUFF beckons people to his place.

“See all the goods on that table? Everything there is free to anyone who needs it,” says Rick. “And all these stuffed animals and children’s things are free, too.”

The rest of the merchandise crammed inside the storage unit is available for a donation to Puffy Paws Kitty Haven, the no-kill cat shelter that Rick operates at 270 Lakeview Lane in Englewood along with his wife, Chrissy.

‘It’s the only no-kill cat shelter in the county. We take care of 100 kitties a day and we go through more than pounds of cat litter a day. That’s why I’m operating the center – to try to raise some money to defray some of those expenses,” he explains.

Donations are especially needed now, he says, because in order to entice more people to take in a cat, no adoption fees are charged.

“We raised $36,317 last year. We had administrative costs of $543.12—the lowest of any charity. We take no salary for ourselves. Every cent goes into caring for kitties,” he says, explaining the center’s 501-C non-profit status.

It’s an all-consuming job to take care of the cats and raise money for their care but Rick says it’s a labor of love.

“My wife puts in 18 hours at the Haven caring for the cats. I’m here from about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, then I go home to help with the cats.”

If people come to the donation and storage center during those hours and find the doors closed, that means Rick is off on an emergency taking care of the cats. “With most of the cats being strays or abandoned, they often need special care to get them back on their feet,” he says.

The “Free Stuff” sign attracts plenty of curious people to the donation center.

“People seem to fall into two categories – those who want to know what they can get for free and those who are curious to know what this is all about. When they find out what we are trying to do, they often help us with donations,” says Rick.

A new wedding gown displayed on a stuffed Bunny topped with a Santa hat can best illustrate the oddity of the merchandise. While it’s not a conventional display by any means, Rick says it’s an effective attention getter.

The wedding gown was donated by a guy from Tampa, he says, who brought in some items after his wedding was cancelled.

“Coming here is like a trip down Memory Lane. I have a hodgepodge of collectibles from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s and a lot of the stuff is hard to find anywhere else,” he says.

A pinball machine, carnival posters, Pepsi glasses and “old school video games” line one side while another shelf features 15-cent comic books, a wide assortment of Disney movies, 45 records and VHS tapes.

“We have a large selection of VHS tapes that parents especially like to have. With people out of work and the economy so tough, many families can’t afford to buy new tapes so they come here and find plenty of tapes to amuse their kids,” Rick says.

While he hopes those who take things from his shop will make a donation, he also admits to “being a soft touch for any hard luck story because we all have to help each other.”

Rick stresses that folks don’t have to like cats to come into the center. “They just have to like old stuff.”

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