Some are kept as mousers, to keep the rats away. Some are strays that have been half-adopted by shop owners.
They are all the real masters of the shop; the humans have just not realised who is truly in charge. A few have even become celebrities, with people stopping by solely to see them. Brother Cream, a British shorthair (now deceased), was the main draw of a convenience store in the Kowloon district.
There is a kind of magic that happens when you walk into a shop with a cat. You forget about commerce and consumption and your attention centres on a furry four-legged creature living in a world of its own, who might deign to acknowledge you if you play your cards right.
It’s a delight to be derailed from your never-ending tasks to simply wonder at a magnificent animal, so unexpectedly discovered perched on a pile of packaged dried seafood or calmly poised on a glass counter.
You might stop to say a few words to the shop owner about their cat, indulging in some chit-chat and a small laugh as they lovingly dismiss their haughty feline.
The world feels less transactional, more human, all because a cat has decided to call a shop home.