K & B ARCHIVES, ADDENDUM 2

 

 

(Mss 314)

 

 

Earl K. Long Library

University of New Orleans

 

August 2006

 

 

Inventory

 

 

Summary

 

Historical Note

 

Container List

 

Index Terms

 

Index

 

Procedures for Requesting Special Collections Materials

 

 

 

Summary

 

 

Size:                          6 linear feet

 

Geographic

locations:                 Chiefly New Orleans, La.

 

Inclusive dates:     

 

Summary:                Memorabilia associated with K & B, Inc., formerly known as Katz & Besthoff, Limited, a chain of drug stores that operated from 1905 to 1997.  Headquartered in New Orleans, the company operated stores in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas, as well.

 

Related

collections:              Karen Harris Collection of Printed Ephemera (Mss 303); K & B Archives (Mss 310); K & B Archives, Addendum 1 (Mss 313); K & B Archives, Addendum 3 (Mss 315)

 

Source:                     Gifts, various donors and dates (2002-present)

 

Access:                     No restrictions

 

Citation:                    K & B Archives, Addendum 2, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans

 

 

 

Historical Note

 

 

Katz & Besthoff, Ltd.—widely known as K & B, which became its corporate name in 1977, or KB for short—was born of a casual conversation that took place in April 1905 in Gustave Katz’s drug store at the intersection of St. Charles and Jackson Avenues.  After earning a degree at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in the early 1890s, Katz had returned to his native New Orleans and obtained a job at Eugene May’s drugstore at 601 Canal Street.  In 1896 the twenty-five-year-old struck out on his own.  Quickly his name became synonymous with integrity in business dealings, competitive prices, and accuracy in filling prescriptions, which were routinely checked by a second pharmacist.  Katz met Sydney Besthoff, the proprietor of a thriving drug store in Memphis, at the latter’s wedding to a New Orleans bride, and when the young couple decided to make their home in the city, he proposed a partnership.[1]

 

            Sydney Besthoff already had identified a site in the heart of the shopping district, and later in 1905 the new firm of Katz & Besthoff opened the doors of its store at 732 Canal Street.  The partners incorporated the contents of Katz’s store and adopted his practice of permitting his customers to open charge accounts and purchase goods on credit.  Katz handled the technical end of the business, managing the finances and watching over the pharmacy; Besthoff welcomed customers, monitored activity on the floor, and suggested fresh ideas.  He also contributed the first syllable of his surname to the firm’s slogan, “Only the Best.”  With a shared dedication, determination, and emphasis on quality, the partners prospered.  In 1910 they established a second store at 837 Canal Street.  Ten years later K & B ventured uptown, opening a third store at St. Charles and Louisiana Avenues, and in 1923 a fourth at South Carrollton Avenue and Oak Street.  Eighteen stores celebrated the fiftieth anniversary in 1955, the year in which K & B filled its ten millionth prescription.  Twenty years later the count had risen to forty-seven million.[2]

 

            In 1926 Sydney Besthoff died of a heart attack and his son, also a registered pharmacist who was familiar with the company, succeeded him.  After Gustave Katz died in 1940, the Besthoff family bought out the Katzes and became the sole owner.  The Katz name—or initial—remained part of the firm’s name, however, for as long as it stayed in business.  In 1962 management passed to Sydney Besthoff III, whose association with the business began in 1939 when, as a twelve-year-old, he worked in the new photofinishing operation, located in the store at 1011 Canal Street.  Under his leadership, K & B flourished as never before.  In 1966 the firm expanded beyond New Orleans, opening a store across Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, then in Baton Rouge, then in other states.  Growth slowed considerably in the 1980s when the oil boom stopped booming but resumed in the 1990s with the acquisition of eight OSCO drug stores in Memphis, coming full circle to the city where the first Sydney Besthoff had begun.  When Rite Aid bought the chain in July 1997, it numbered one hundred eighty-six stores in six states (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as Louisiana), employing a staff of more than forty-eight hundred.  Over forty-two hundred of them stayed on with Rite Aid.[3]

 

            Endeavoring to give their clientele what they wanted, K & B adopted a broad-spectrum marketing strategy long before most drugstores did, selling everything from holiday decorations to garden hoses to tubes for 1950s televisions to home permanents to cigars to pet supplies, in addition to prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.  Although many of these goods came from national manufacturers, K & B marketed numerous products under its own brand.  The selection of K & B beverages, for example, included cola, beer, burgundy, port, and a whiskey called Sir Sidney.  The store brand appeared also on baby oil, aspirin, antihistamine, suppositories, nasal spray, sleeping pills, vitamins, bandages, antiseptic, cream for athlete’s foot, antacids, batteries, matches, camera film, clocks, pencils, ballpoint pens, hurricane tracking charts, and street maps with all the K & B stores marked, to name but a few.[4]

 

            One of the best examples of a native product was K & B ice cream, which came not only in the traditional flavors, but also in locally popular cherry vanilla, eggnog, and cream cheese.  Soda fountains had existed in New Orleans since at least the 1830s, and they enjoyed considerable patronage, especially during the hot months of long Louisiana summers; one version of the creation of the ice cream sundae holds that it originated in the Crescent City.  Because fewer cases of colds and flu occurred during the summertime, it was the pharmacy’s slack season, and income from the soda fountains supplemented the decline in revenue from prescriptions.  At K & B they offset each other so neatly that except in December, month-to-month revenues never varied more than five percent.[5]

 

            Several variations of the story of how purple became the company color exist.  One version dates the association with purple from 1908, another from 1911; surely it began in “the days before paper bags, when products purchased at a pharmacy would have been wrapped in brown kraft paper and tied with a string.  An unnamed New Orleans merchant had ordered a railroad car load of purple wrapping paper for a special promotion.  But when it arrived, the merchant didn’t like the color.  The paper was discounted below the cost of the regular kraft paper and K & B scooped it up.”  It was good advertising, for as customers carried their purple parcels home, everyone knew where they had shopped.  When the first shipment of purple paper ran out, more was ordered.  The color inspired a variation on the firm’s slogan: “If it’s purple on the outside, it’s only the BEST from Katz & BESThoff on the inside.”[6]  Purple became inextricably connected with the firm, which incorporated it in signs, packaging, and newspaper advertising.  The last of these uses caused the New Orleans Times-Picayune to be the nation’s biggest consumer of purple ink.  With so much purple everywhere, it is hardly surprising that its distinctive shade—“not quite lavender, not quite violet—has entered the local vocabulary as ‘K & B purple.’”[7]

 

At the same time Rite Aid acquired K & B, it also bought one hundred forty-six Harco Drug Stores, based in Alabama.  The two buyouts made the thirty-five-year-old chain the nation’s largest, with nearly four thousand drug stores in thirty-one states, and gave it a new presence on the Gulf Coast.  Separate purchase prices were not announced, but the combined cost of K & B and Harco approached $340,000,000.  For that sum of money, Rite Aid “[stood] to gain their $838,000,000 in sales[, $580,000,000 of which came from K & B,] without all of the additional management costs of running the stores.”  Although large chains had been gobbling up small, family-operated stores for years, New Orleans had largely resisted the trend.  Pharmacies, however, had something more than changing times with which to contend: changing health care.  “Analysts agree[d] that the growth of health maintenance organizations and other types of health care insurance plans commonly lumped under the banner ‘managed care’ . . . brought the small and mid-sized companies to the brink.”  Only large, high-volume chains could withstand the pricing pressure, and K & B was sold while it was still profitable.[8]

 

Writing in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Anne Rochell explained that “all the fuss over a dying drug store chain [was] because a battle for the soul of New Orleans was being waged, and, for the moment, the outsiders [were] winning.”  She noted that “To an outsider, the K & B drug stores here were nothing but boxy buildings with funny purple signs—a bit of an eyesore next to the mansions along St. Charles Avenue.  But natives loved them, and when . . . Rite Aid bought them out, many vowed they would never shop there again.”  Surprised by consumers’ devotion to the sign of the purple, Rite Aid officials proceeded more slowly than they had planned to introduce their own logo and slogan.  At some point during the years, however, K & B “became not only a trusted business establishment, but a cultural icon on the New Orleans landscape,” and customers became friends.[9]

 

Notes

 

Excerpted from a paper by Florence M. Jumonville, first presented at the Popular Culture Association Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 17, 2003.

[1]Sandie Gauthreaux, “A History of K&B,” The K&B Connection 8.1 (September 1997): 1, 3; New Orleans City Directory, 1896.  Based on records still possessed by K&B and on interviews with Sydney Besthoff III, Gauthreaux’s article began as a paper she wrote as a student at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans.  It was published in its entirety in the final issue of The K&B Connection, a newspaper for employees.

2Gauthreaux, “History of K&B,” 1-2.

3Ibid., 1-3; James J. LeBlanc, “The End or the Beginning?,” The K&B Connection 8.1 (September 1997): 4; Gregory S. Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” University of New Orleans Magazine 28 (Fall 2002): 11; Betty Keith, quoted by Angus Lind, “Purple Prose: Whimsical Cookbook Is Fondly Recalled,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 17, 1998, p. E1 (quotation).

4Liz Scott, “Chemistry Set: How Mr. Katz and Mr. Besthoff Started an Empire,” New Orleans Magazine 32, no. 2 (November 1997), 21; Errol Laborde, “Purple Passion,” New Orleans Magazine 31, no. 12 (September 1997): 120.  This collection includes examples of most of the K&B products mentioned here, as well as others.

5Gauthreaux, “A History of K&B,” 1-2; Anne Cooper Funderburg, Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2002), 31, 63, 125; Scott, “Chemistry Set,” 20; James Slaton, “They All Screamed for K&B Ice Cream,” New Orleans Citibusiness 23 (September 15, 1997): 1, 42.

6Julie Landry, “K&B Purple Fading Away,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 31, 1997, p. 1G; Scott, “Chemistry Set,” 20; Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” 10-11, based on an interview with Sydney J. Besthoff III (quotation).

7Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” 10-11, based on an interview with Sydney J. Besthoff III; Anne Rochell, “The Americanization of New Orleans,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, June 21, 1998, p. 01C (quotation).

8King, “Retailing Giant Rite Aid to Buy K&B Drugs Inc.”; Rite Aid Corp., “History,” <http://www.riteaid.com/company_info/history.php>, accessed April 15, 2003; Ronette King, “Little Guys Struggle against Big Operators,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 30, 1997, p. A3 (first quotation); Kathy Finn, “Looking Beyond the Sale of K&B Drugstores,” New Orleans Citibusiness 25 (July 28, 1997): 1, 37 (second quotation).

9Rochell, “Americanization of New Orleans” (first and second quotations); “Purple Pros Know Where to Go Saturday,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1998, p. L15; Louisiana State Archives, “Louisiana’s Jewish Community: Katz & Besthoff,” <http://www.sec.state.la.us/archives/jewish/JHKB.HTM>, accessed April 12, 2003 (third quotation).

 

 

 

Container List

 

 

The collection has not been processed.

 

 

 

 

Index Terms

 

 

Besthoff, Sydney

K & B Drug Stores (Firm)

Katz, Gustave

Pharmacy—LouisianaNew Orleans

 



Excerpted from a paper by Florence M. Jumonville, first presented at the Popular Culture Association Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 17, 2003.

[1]Sandie Gauthreaux, “A History of K&B,” The K&B Connection 8.1 (September 1997): 1, 3; New Orleans City Directory, 1896.  Based on records still possessed by K&B and on interviews with Sydney Besthoff III, Gauthreaux’s article began as a paper she wrote as a student at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans.  It was published in its entirety in the final issue of The K&B Connection, a newspaper for employees.

[2]Gauthreaux, “History of K&B,” 1-2.

[3]Ibid., 1-3; James J. LeBlanc, “The End or the Beginning?,” The K&B Connection 8.1 (September 1997): 4; Gregory S. Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” University of New Orleans Magazine 28 (Fall 2002): 11; Betty Keith, quoted by Angus Lind, “Purple Prose: Whimsical Cookbook Is Fondly Recalled,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 17, 1998, p. E1 (quotation).

[4]Liz Scott, “Chemistry Set: How Mr. Katz and Mr. Besthoff Started an Empire,” New Orleans Magazine 32, no. 2 (November 1997), 21; Errol Laborde, “Purple Passion,” New Orleans Magazine 31, no. 12 (September 1997): 120.  This collection includes examples of most of the K&B products mentioned here, as well as others.

[5]Gauthreaux, “A History of K&B,” 1-2; Anne Cooper Funderburg, Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2002), 31, 63, 125; Scott, “Chemistry Set,” 20; James Slaton, “They All Screamed for K&B Ice Cream,” New Orleans Citibusiness 23 (September 15, 1997): 1, 42.

[6]Julie Landry, “K&B Purple Fading Away,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 31, 1997, p. 1G; Scott, “Chemistry Set,” 20; Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” 10-11, based on an interview with Sydney J. Besthoff III (quotation).

[7]Nelson, “K&B Lives!,” 10-11, based on an interview with Sydney J. Besthoff III; Anne Rochell, “The Americanization of New Orleans,” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, June 21, 1998, p. 01C (quotation).

[8]King, “Retailing Giant Rite Aid to Buy K&B Drugs Inc.”; Rite Aid Corp., “History,” <http://www.riteaid.com/company_info/history.php>, accessed April 15, 2003; Ronette King, “Little Guys Struggle against Big Operators,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 30, 1997, p. A3 (first quotation); Kathy Finn, “Looking Beyond the Sale of K&B Drugstores,” New Orleans Citibusiness 25 (July 28, 1997): 1, 37 (second quotation).

[9]Rochell, “Americanization of New Orleans” (first and second quotations); “Purple Pros Know Where to Go Saturday,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1998, p. L15; Louisiana State Archives, “Louisiana’s Jewish Community: Katz & Besthoff,” <http://www.sec.state.la.us/archives/jewish/JHKB.HTM>, accessed April 12, 2003 (third quotation).