by Len Lear
In 2008, Lisa Illman, now 50, was working long hours as a marketing executive, and she faced a difficult choice when she had a bit of downtime: spend time at home with her two cats, or enjoy the fresh air outdoors. Soon afterwards, her vision for a new business was conceived while observing the sad faces of her cats, Madison and Abigail, as they peered longingly outdoors.
She quickly realized that in order for her entire family to enjoy the outdoors together, she would need to create a safe, effective outdoor cat enclosure. So Illman proceeded to build a portable mesh-walled enclosure that let her bring her cats safely and happily outside.
That first model was smaller than the ones Illman sells today, but it did the trick. Neighbors started asking where she’d bought hers, and before long Illman had a business idea on her hands. She didn’t stop there. After developing the “Kritter Kondo” into a fully expandable system for cats and small dogs, the Mt. Airy resident turned her attention to home furnishings like quirky pet rugs, and she continues to expand her product line.
“We think pets and their owners should have it both ways,” said Illman. “Owners shouldn’t need to split their time and attention when most cats and dogs would rather spend a little time outdoors anyway. This is a product solution that helps pets enjoy both the indoors and the outdoors.”
Illman’s company, Kritter Kommunity, LLC, operated a pop-up store on Black Friday weekend, Nov. 23-25, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The store was hosted by The Cedars House at the intersection of Forbidden Drive and Northwestern Avenue in Wissahickon Valley Park.
Illman, who has lived in Mt. Airy for four years, is a native of Shippensburg who graduated from Penn State University in 1993 with a degree in English and then moved to Philly to be near a college friend. For years she worked at the USAir Express section of the Philadelphia International Airport unloading bags from planes while living in a thimble-sized apartment in Queen Village.
“I love the northwest part of the city,” she said. “It is charming, so very pretty in the fall, easier to park than in Center City, and the shops in Chestnut Hill offer many quaint spots to take friends and family who come to visit me. And I still have very easy access by car or train to Center City, which I love.”
Illman’s Kritter Kondo is by no means the only large cat enclosure ever invented, but it is more sturdy than the others. Many of the tent pop-up ones are flimsy and can blow away easily.
“Other sturdy cat enclosures need to be set up and are not easy to put together,” said Illman, whose product is a one-piece collapsible structure. It collapses flat with the release of a few pins and then conveniently fits into its carrying case, making it easy to store and travel with.
The Kritter Kondo and The Pet Lodge (also Illman’s design) are offered on her website as well as on Amazon and Wayfair.com. The Kritter Kondo is $189.99, but folks could get a coupon during the pop-up shop that will offer a special price of $99.99 plus shipping.
A lifelong animal lover, Illman had one childhood dog and parakeet and then adopted her first two adult cats from rescues about 13 years ago, Madison and Abigail. “They have since crossed over the rainbow bridge,” she said. “Now I have a 7-year-old tuxedo cat named Finnegan. He came from a rescue to me at just six months old. We are very, very close! He even has his own Facebook page. I am designing a new cat scratcher, and he is the inspector, model and snoopervisor. Two paws up, so it will be offered sometime next year.”
By the way, The Cedars House, where the three-day pop-up took place, was built in the 19th century as the office of the sprawling Andorra Nurseries. After a painstaking restoration, the building has recently found new life as a café, wellness center and event venue.
To learn more about the pop-up, email email@example.com