In 1905, K&B gave New Orleans a purple passion
It started with $500. That’s how much Gus Katz and Sydney Besthoff each ponied up in 1905 for their new business venture, a drugstore at 732 Canal St. Not long after, Besthoff’s wife, looking to save a few pennies, snatched up a batch of oddly colored purple wrapping paper, sold at salvage prices, in which to package the store’s goods. K&B and its trademark purple color were born, both going on to become New Orleans institutions.
K&B is no longer, having been rebranded after the chain was sold to Rite-Aid in 1997. But it, and K&B purple, live on in the hearts of nostalgic New Orleanians. From T-shirts to refrigerator magnets to cups and coasters, K&B paraphernalia is still bought and sold online. Original K&B merchandise is also collected, and treasured, by many locals.
- Although it was technically a drug store, K&B grew to become a one-stop-shop for everything from groceries to cosmetics and from liquor to all manner of store-branded goods.
- At one point, K&B was the biggest photofinisher in the state — initially using its own “Bestone” process — and one of the biggest manufacturers of ice cream.
- The chain’s second store was also on Canal Street, just a block lakebound from the original store. The third was at Louisiana and St. Charles avenues.
- At the time of its sale, K&B had 50 stores in New Orleans and another 135 in six states. In all, it employed 4,800 people.
- Technically, the drug store was named “Katz & Besthoff” until 1977, when it official changed its name to the one everyone knew it by anyway: K&B.
- Sydney Besthoff III and wife Walda are notable art collectors of art. Some 60 pieces from their collection are on display at the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
- The K&B logo incorporated two checks, to signify that all prescriptions were “double checked” by the pharmacist.
- In 1998, Rite Aid sold off all K&B-branded items — from grocery carts to stationery — at a tent sale in the parking lot of one of its Metairie locations. “A Mardi Gras-sized” crowd of nostalgic locals lined up to snap up what they could, according to a Times-Picayune write-up.
- Until the 1950s, each K&B location offered delivery service, with a bicycle delivery person and a delivery truck assigned to each store.
- Although the chain no longer exists, the K&B name still adorns at least one local building: the K&B Plaza, an office building that still stands on Lee Circle.
- As with any business partnership, Katz and Besthoff had their own unofficial roles. “My grandfather was a very personable, outgoing guy,” Sydney Besthoff III said in a 2003 interview with The Times-Picayune. “He ran the front of the store and Katz ran the business side of the operation. There’s always an inside man and an outside man.”
- At one point, the chain used the slogan, “If it’s purple on the outside, it’s Only the Best from Katz & Besthoff.”
Purple has long been an important color to New Orleans, dating at least to its introduction by Rex in 1892 as one of the three official colors of Mardi Gras (green and gold being the others). But “K&B purple” — a hue that any local knows well — has become a thing unto itself. For years, it symbolized a drug store. Since 1997, however, it has come to symbolize our shared yesterdays, a bright, only-in-New-Orleans homage to all the things that “ain’t there no more” — and a color that might be ugly if it wasn’t just so darn beautiful.