Growing up, there seemed to be a K&B drug store in every neighborhood. Where was the first one?
Pharmacists Gustave Katz and Sydney Besthoff Sr. opened the first Katz & Besthoff pharmacy at 732 Canal St. in 1905. According to John S. Epstein’s 2011 history of K&B Drug Stores, Katz was a New Orleans pharmacist who owned a drug store at St. Charles and Jackson avenues before he partnered with Besthoff, a pharmacist originally from Memphis.
In 1911, they opened a second location in the 800 block of Canal Street. It featured a soda fountain, which became a popular destination for shoppers. A third location opened in 1920 at St. Charles and Louisiana avenues, followed by the store at Oak Street and South Carrollton Avenue, which opened in 1923. Dozens of other stores followed.
The pharmacy chain, whose name officially was shortened to K&B in 1977, became well-known for its purple-colored products and logo, which many people still refer to as “K&B purple.” According to a Times-Picayune article, the signature color came about when Besthoff’s wife snatched up a batch of oddly colored purple wrapping paper, sold at salvage prices, to package the store’s goods.
In addition to filling prescriptions, K&B also carried hundreds of items, from cosmetics and school supplies to its own brand of liquor. Although the store soda fountains were phased out in the 1970s, K&B continued to make and sell its own line of ice cream, including its popular Creole cream cheese flavor.
Sydney Besthoff Sr. died in 1926. His partner Gustave Katz died in 1940 and his family sold its interests to the Besthoff family. Sydney Besthoff Jr. ran the business until his retirement in 1972. His son Sydney Besthoff III later oversaw the chain’s growth to 186 locations in six states.
The K&B chain closed in 1997 when the company sold its stores to Rite Aid. Its former headquarters at 1055 St. Charles Ave. near Lee Circle still bears the letters K&B on its roof. The Besthoff name also lives on at the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park, a gift of Sydney Besthoff III and his wife.