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Bloomsbury Books loses longtime feline mascot

ASHLAND — For nearly 15 years, Orlando has been almost as much of an attraction at Bloomsbury Books as the gleaming volumes of fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction lining the shelves at the East Main Street store.

But on Monday, Bloomsbury Books lost its mascot and feline friend.

"He was the first one I'd see in the morning," said Karen Chapman, who has co-owned the bookstore with Sheila Burns for three decades.

For Bloomsbury regular Mary Anne Bergman, Orlando was more than just a pet; he was a reason to stop by the store.

"Every Friday we would go to Pangea and order salmon, and we would save Orlando a portion," said Bergman. "We would go on the children's bench and feed it to him."

Orlando was adopted about 15 years ago by retired Bloomsbury employee Marilyn Edwards and her daughter, Jennifer. His breed and exact age will always remain a mystery, but he was named after Virginia Woolf's "Orlando."

"He was a literate cat," Chapman joked.

One time he scratched the top of a box of books, and damaged a book titled "Women Who Love Dogs."

"We were sure he was able to read," Chapman said.

Despite Orlando's flirtation with vandalism, Chapman never worried about him hurting anyone.

"Toddlers were the only thing he was afraid of," Chapman said, explaining they'd send Orlando scurrying to find a hiding place. "We never worried about him scratching someone.

"He was a working cat. He had a job, and he knew what it was," Chapman said. "He was a goodwill ambassador, he was a greeter."

Even as his health declined, the photogenic Orlando paid for his vet bills through postcards of him sold at the store.

"People were always taking photographs," Chapman said. "It was almost like he knew he was supposed to pose."

Photographer and longtime customer Diana Standing collaborated with Burns on a calendar featuring Orlando. The project didn't pan out, but her photos are prominently displayed along the stairwell at the store.

Whenever Standing entered the store, Orlando knew it was time to strike a pose in the children's section for her.

"Orlando would walk to the children's section from wherever he was," said Standing.

"He was just such a wise, sweet cat," Standing said. "That was a real special time for me."

Bloomsbury Books invites the public to share memories of Orlando from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the store, 290 E. Main St. For more information, call the store at 488-0029.

Orlando, the longtime Bloomsbury Books store cat, died Monday.