Wednesday, March 14, 2012

52 Trade Houses Part 50: Katz Drug Co. of Kansas City

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Over the course of the next year, we'll be detailing the history of 52 companies that sold branded fishing tackle. 52 trade houses in 52 weeks -- some obscure, some famous, and all available exclusively here on the Fishing for History Blog! If you have any items from the week's entry you'd like to share with us, please send it my way and I'll make sure it makes it on the blog.

For a discussion of what exactly trade tackle is, Click Here. Enjoy the 52 for 52!

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Trade House Tackle, Part 50:

Katz Drug Co. of Kansas City, MO

Drug stores have a long and important connection to the fishing tackle trade. We've already covered Eckerd Drugs, a popular drug store chain from Florida.

Today we'll cover a popular Midwestern drug store chain known as Katz Drug Co., founded in Kansas City, Missouri. It was founded by the Katz Brothers--Isaac and Mike Katz--who were a pair of Ukrainian immigrants. In the early 1910s, they moved from Chicago (and the large Ukrainian community there--remember Jurgis Rudkis from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle?)--to Kansas City and opened a series of fruit stands.

Isaac Katz, founder of Katz Drug Co.

By 1915 the Katz Brothers left the fruit stand business and opened a pair of cigar stores. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Katz wanted to stay open past the 6 p.m. mandated national curfew, and the only way to evade it was to sell drugs. He immediately hired a pharmacist and stocked medicine, and business boomed.

Very early Katz cigar shop matchcover dating from the 1910s.

By the mid-1920s, Katz Drug Co. had expanded into a chain of stores that now included a wide variety of goods ranging from "groceries and household supplies" to "pet alligators and monkeys." In 1929, Isaac paid $100,000 in ransom to kidnappers who had taken his brother Mike.

In 1934 the Katz Bros. opened the largest drug store in the world, a 20,000 square foot monster located at Main and Westport in downtown Kansas City. By this time, the firm's famous logo, a black cat, was widely known in the region.

1934 Katz Drug Store--the largest in the world at the time.

In the 1940s and 1950s the firm expanded out from its Kansas City home, until gy 1970 it had 65 stores throughout the Midwest and had surpassed $100 million in sales.

The firm sold a lot of discount fishing tackle. The most prominent are the lures packaged in special cards marked with their trade name "Super Star Lures." These lures were knock offs of popular lures ranging from the Eppinger Dardevle to the Arbogast Jitterbug. These cards are marked "Packaged Exclusively for Katz Drug Co. Sport Centers." The Sport Center was similar to Eckard Drug's version, which was a self-service aisle in their stores devoted to fishing tackle and other sporting goods.

Note the "Made in U.S.A." mark on the card. This would have likely been manufactured by a company such as Atlantic Lures of Providence, R.I.

Isaac Katz passed away in 1957, although his son Earl Katz had taken over management of the firm a decade before. In 1971, Katz merged with Skaggs Drug Co. and the name disappeared. In 1985, Skaggs was bought out by Osco Drug, which in turn was purchased by CVS Pharmacies in 2006. So in a sense, the legendary Katz Drug Co. is still with us today.

-- Dr. Todd

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