Tshirts: K&B Drugstores in New Orleans Culture

Since Katrina, a cottage industry of New Orleans-inspired goods and tshirts has sprouted. These are not the “I Got Bourbon-Faced on Shit Street” shirts that you see in the French Quarter. Rather, these are a collection of inside jokes and local references that make New Orleanians smile. Explaining these jokes to out of towners is a reminder of how much in speak  and shared knowledge there is in this city.

Since this blog tries to explain what it’s like to live in New Orleans and acclimate those new to the city, I’m kicking off an occasional series of posts that explains the stories behind the shirts. I’ve already written about the The Trinity shirt at Dirty Coast. Today, we’re going to talk about K&B Drugstores.

“More than just a just a drugstore”
K&B was a drugstore chain that opened its first store in the late 1890s. The drugstores inspired fierce customer loyalty, as detailed in this article on NOLA.com. By the 1990s the Katz & Besthoff company had 50 stores in NOLA, and nearly 200 stores in six states. K&B was known for its house brands, including ice cream, beer and vodka!

K&B vodka

K&B ice cream

The company was sold to Rite Aid in 1997. K&B was headquartered in Lee Circle, and you can see KB written on the side of the building to this day.

K&B Plaza Near Lee Circle

K&B on 732 Canal Street.

K&B on Carrollton and Oak. It is now a Rite Aid.

K&B Purple

Storyville's K&B shirt, in K&B Purple

Anytime I’ve spoken with New Orleanians about K&B they always mention “K&B purple,”  which was the signature color of the company. This great post about K&B from GoNola.com details the back story. “A local paper products company had a cancelled order from a different store, leaving them stuck with several rolls of purple wrapping paper. K and B bought that paper at a discount, and the color caught on! Soon it became the main color of the drugstore’s “double-check” logo.”

Now you can buy K&B shirts from both Fleurty Girl and Storyville, in K&B Purple.

The K&B Jingle:

Look at almost every corner
And what do you see
A big purple sign that says
Friendly K&B
Variety, value and reliability
That’s what you get at your friendly K&B
K&B Drugstores

Fleurty Girl's K&B tshirt

K&B in Art

Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B, by Jimmy Descant

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (where I’m a docent) has an exhibition of the work of Jimmy Descant, a self-taught assemblage artist who glues, staples and nails all sorts of found objects to wood to create his artistic statements. I urge everyone to go view the exhibition before it closes on April 8. One of pieces I really responded to is called “Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B.” The piece resembles a cross-section of an automobile, with cans of K&B beer strewn about the sides, as if they came flying out in a crash (there are even K&B pencils inside the car.) Unlike most of the K&B nostalgia I’ve seen that idealizes a simpler time, this ode to the past is filled with regret for reckless behavior.
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7 thoughts on “Tshirts: K&B Drugstores in New Orleans Culture

  1. When I was little, every Sunday my Great Grandpa would take me to K&B to get cherry Vanilla Ice cream and purple bubble gum. I miss him.

  2. I love the KBs memories — a good number of locals dropped the & and just called the drugstore chain KBs. And I am one of those people who fondly remember KBs Fudge Ripple Ice Cream as the best ever!

    But I do have one correction. K&B was sold to Rite Aid in 1997, not 1974. It was a HUGE local story and many people mourned the loss of yet another local landmark. It is one reason why Walgreen’s is now more popular than Rite Aid and CVS in NOLA.

    • I have a couple of K&B ink pens that I own’t use or part with. I think I have a photo envelope that holds some pics that I got developed there so long ago. Sigh…

  3. Hi, I realize you wrote this a few months ago but I came across it in my research & thought you or some of your followers might be able to assist me. Short back story, I’m from South MS w/an amazing amount of love for Louisiana, LSU, The Saints & New Orleans especially.I’m 31 now and my Dad started working for K&B (in MS) in 83, he worked for them as a Store Manager until it was sold in 97 and still currently works as a Mgr for Rite Aid. My very 1st job (w/the assistance of my father of course) was as a cashier & Pharmacy Tech @ K&B in 11th grade. Needless to say, I was very exposed to the company’s culture, products, and the incredible way the Besthoff family valued & rewarded their employees. I know for a fact that it was taken for granted by many employees who were exposed to a money-hungry corporate world when Rite Aid took over (for as many wonderful stories I have about K&B, unfortuanately I have as many ruthless ones re: Rite Aid). To the point, when the takeover was complete and all purple was replaced with Blue & Red, my Dad and I kept a great deal of things one might refer to as memorabilia in today’s world that others might have thrown away. I’m trying to research any websites or companies that have true, honest, and respectable interest in these things. I’ve looked on ebay and I’m in amazement that k&b pencils and crayons are listed @ $40. Does anyone have any suggestions of websites I might could contact? If not, I just want to say thank you for this blog about something that defined some of the work ethics my father instilled in me.

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