Kansas City, MO

The iconic Katz Drug Store chain began in Kansas City with founders and brothers, Isaac and Mike Katz

CJ Coombs

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

Pharmacies have come a long way since Mike and Ike Katz opened their first two drug stores in Kansas City, Missouri.

History of the Katz brothers

In 1892, Isaac "Ike" Katz and his family traveled from Ukraine to St. Paul, Minnesota. When Ike was 13, he dropped out of school. He earned money by selling items like newspapers to Northern Railroad passengers. If items were tossed away, he would get them for reselling to the next group of passengers.

When Ike was in his early 20s, he and his younger brother, Mike, moved to Kansas City, Missouri. They had opened fruit stands there, and interestingly, in 1914 after the Union Station opened, Mike and Ike opened up two cigar stores close to the Station.

In 1917, after World War I was declared, federal laws mandated stores to close at 6:00 p.m. unless their business was a pharmacy. The brothers decided to hire a pharmacist so they could keep it open.

Ike and Mike were keen entrepreneurs with their business model, one which is effective today with being able to fill prescription drugs and sell groceries in a pharmacy. They set the trend.

In the 1920s, their pharmacy would continue to expand in the Midwest. At that time, they even sold exotic animals like alligators and monkeys which isn't allowed today. During the Great Depression, a new store was opened in a specially commissioned building that was located at Main Street and Westport Road in Kansas City. This pharmacy building was unique to me because it was curved from street level on up. The first pharmacy name I recall on that corner was Osco Drug, then CVS Pharmacy.

Currently the building is on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places and is currently used as a studio space for artists. Its unique art deco clock tower remains a familiar sight in Westport. (Source.)

The style of the building was art deco which was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. A nephew of the Katz brothers, Clarence Kivett, was an architect who designed the clock tower attached to the building. The company’s logo was a black cat that wore a bow tie.

Imagine walking into a Katz Drug Store and going up to the fountain area, sitting down, and ordering a cup of coffee for a nickel and a sandwich for 20 cents.

The Enduring Legacy of Katz Drug Stores - 435 Magazine - Aug. 2014, "The Kings of Cut-Rate"- Ike & Mike Katz.Pinterest.

Earl Katz, Ike's son, took over the business in the 1950s. The pharmacy's success had annual sales volumes of $100 million.

Civil Rights movement

On August 19, 1958, the first sit-in occurred in a Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where children of color would be at the lunch counter with their teacher saying they weren't going to leave until they had service. They really wanted to end the racial segregation of eating establishments in the city. The sit-in movement lasted for a long time.

The iconic Katz Drug Co. is on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places

As with most businesses, change began to occur. The famous pharmacy started losing its market share in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. In 1971, Katz was sold to Skaggs Drug Cos. In time, Skaggs merged with Osco Drug. Osco Drug ended up merging with CVS Pharmacy.

Once a space for local artists in Kansas City, the historic building at the corner of Westport Road and Main Street has been owned by the nearby Redeemer Fellowship Church since it purchased the building at auction in 2011. Last year, Lux Living of St. Louis proposed to buy the building and turn it into a space that includes amenities like a fitness center, pool, audio studio and co-working spaces for residents of nearby luxury apartment buildings. (Source.)

Residents weren't real pleased that an out-of-town developer was coming in to construct high-end apartments, especially in an area where such a development might not match the needs of midtown's income. It would push the cost of living up in this area. Some would be happy to see the housing to be affordable. The CEO of Lux Living said they are preserving the building.

As reported by KCUR in July 2021, "[a]fter weeks of debate, the Kansas City Council on Thursday approved tax breaks for a project to turn the historic Katz Drug Store in Westport into an amenity center for luxury apartments."

The developer plans to construct a six-story, 192 multifamily unit building behind the Katz building at Westport Road and Main Street. The project will cost $37.6 million. (Source.)

Isaac Katz died in 1956 at the age of 77. His younger brother, Mike, died in 1969.

Thank you for reading.

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30 years of legal secretarial experience, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, my life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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