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.