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Features The Black Cat: Buying into downtown

The Black Cat: Buying into downtown

You wouldn’t offend Moe Mullis if you said his shop is the “weird” side of Oneida’s downtown district. After all, it’s in the shop’s name: The Black Cat Antiques & Oddities. The shop, which Mullis owns and operates alongside his wife, Ella, deals in the unusual. “We’ll trade for just about anything, as long as […]

You wouldn’t offend Moe Mullis if you said his shop is the “weird” side of Oneida’s downtown district.

After all, it’s in the shop’s name: The Black Cat Antiques & Oddities. The shop, which Mullis owns and operates alongside his wife, Ella, deals in the unusual.

“We’ll trade for just about anything, as long as it has some sort of weird factor in it,” Mullis said.

There are a lot of stuff inside The Black Cat that folks from Scott County would never buy, Mullis admits. “People think they’re cool to look at and they’re fascinating, but we have to put them online to sell them,” Mullis said of those items.

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“We have some wild stuff,” he said. “We have claimed haunted items. We actually have human bones in here. We have some wild taxidermy that we’ve picked up over the years. We had some two-headed frogs in here a while back but they sold. We’ve got a little bit of everything in here.”

Of course, not everything inside The Black Cat falls into the oddity category. There is lots of perfectly normal stuff — like comics, matchbox cars, antiques, and items of historical value, both locally and nationally.

But jam-packed into every corner of the South Main Street shop is something interesting to look at. As Mullis said, you don’t have to want to buy it to think it’s neat to look at. Walking through The Black Cat is like losing track of time. Everywhere your eyes wander, there is something else to stop and take in.

“We love sending our visitors in here,” said Scott County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stacey Swann. “There is so much here, and the hours are really appealing to visitors.”

Those hours are 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Mullis is a corrections officer by day, and Ella runs the shop while he’s at his main job. Together, they travel, buy estates that they can rummage through, and pull little pieces of Scott County and the world into their Main Street shop.

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“We get a lot of people who come through and compare us to shops in cities like Chicago, New York and Miami,” Mullis said. People have come in from as far away as California. One out-of-state shopper takes a road trip every year just so he can visit The Black Cat.

How Main Street’s most unique business came to be is an interesting story, in and of itself. The Mullises didn’t start out to be retailers. Instead, they set out to frighten Scott County … literally. After operating Frightmare Forest (watch for related story, next week) at their West Oneida home for nearly a decade, they started searching for a place to move the haunted attraction indoors. At the same time, Music on Main organizers were looking to add a Halloween aspect to their October festival. Sharon Scott, who was a member of the committee, reached out to Moe and Ella, and that’s how their Main Street presence came to be.

“We did Music on Main that first year, and that’s when we discovered this building,” Mullis said. “We thought maybe we could make this work.”

The Mullises originally rented the second floor of the building, intending to run their haunted attraction — Outbreak on Main — in that space. When the first floor became available, they bought the entire building outright.

At first, the intention was to put a gift shop in the downstairs portion of the building. But it was too much space “to fill up with shot glasses and haunted house t-shirts,” Mullis said.

So Moe and Ella “threw some ideas around.” They had sold antiques and other items online for years. They pitched the idea of the antique and oddities shop to people, the response was positive, and The Black Cat soon opened for business.

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Today, there are 35 different collectors and artists whose items are on display and for sale in The Black Cat. Some of those individuals have a single piece, while others have as many as 50 pieces. They aren’t just locals, either; people from different states send their goods to Moe and Ella to put on display at the shop.

The online sales operation continues, through eBay, Facebook and other online marketplaces. And the brick-and-mortar side of the business is now well-established. It’s literally like Halloween all year long … but it’s so much more.

And the reputation has gotten around: Moe Mullis will barter.

“Sometimes people think we’re a pawn shop,” he said. “The local pawn shops will send people our way because there are such odd items that they don’t want them but they know I’ll look at them, and I might be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take them.’”

Mullis tells a story of a man who entered the shop with a box of “weird stuff,” like bones, animal furs, and even a set of false teeth. There was a vintage bottle in the shop that he wanted, and he was looking to make a trade. The dentures were right up Moe’s alley.

“I said, ‘Just lay the teeth on the counter and have at it,’” Mullis said. “So we’ll trade for just about anything, as long as it has some sort of weird factor to it.”

Mullis has another reputation that’s gotten around, too: He wants to see Main Street thrive. The downtown revitalization effort didn’t begin with him, but he’s taken the bull by the horns and is determined to make it work.

“This is it. We’re trying to save it,” Mullis said of South Main. “We’re trying to push people to get involved, to get interested and to stay interested. We encourage people to take chances on business opportunities down here.”

A strong Main Street, Mullis said, helps make a strong Oneida.

“Ella and I are from Scott County,” he said. “Ella was born here and I grew up here. But there was a time that we left. We’ve seen the country. We’ve seen other places, other towns, other cultures. And we’ve brought that back here and we want to share that experience.

“That’s how you make a community grow. You bring outside in, and you make it all grow and fit together.”

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Independent Herald
Contact the Independent Herald at newsroom@ihoneida.com. Follow us on Twitter, @indherald.
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