KC Made: The Katz Drug Company

From fruit stand to drug store empire, the Katz family was a titan in 20th century Kansas City.

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Today, the first floor tenant of the Boley Building at 12th and Walnut is Andrew McMeels Universal.

Photo via the Missouri Valley Special Collections

Editor Maddie here. Regular Wrap readers might remember a recent quest of mine:

“Charmaine and I made some 2024 predictions in a recent article and my trend forecast featuring Kansas City Katz merch garnered over 600 clicks [...] I cannot, for the life of me, find anything about the aforementioned defunct Ban Johnson baseball league team.”

No newspaper clippings or fond memories flooded our inbox, but that didn’t deter your unflappable City Editors. What we found was a story much bigger than the diamond (which we’ll definitely come back to later), wrapped up in an iconic drug store empire.

No, not that Mike + Ike

It all starts with a fruit stand in the West Bottoms.

Ukrainian-born brothers Isaac “Ike” and Michael Katz moved to Kansas City around the turn of the century, operating a small business on Union Avenue until a series of changes in the 1910s:

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Left: Isaac “Ike” Katz, Right: One of the original Katz Drug Stores at 8th and Grand, circa 1920.

Photo via the Missouri Valley Special Collection

  • Union Station opened in 1914. The brothers set up shop nearby the Pershing and Main hub with two cigar stores at 12th and McGee + 8th and Grand.
  • “Katz pays the tax.” By footing the new WWI tax on cigarettes, the business boomed with its memorable slogan.
  • A federally-imposed wartime curfew prohibited everyone but drugstores from staying open past 6 p.m., so the brothers hired a retired pharmacist and founded the Katz Drug Company in 1917, placing a soda fountain by the prescription counter.
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A drug store soda fountain... with a 15c sundae. Oh, those 1930s prices.

Photo via Vintage Menu Art

The Walmart of its day

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The modern-day drugstore was pioneered by Kansas City’s Katz family.

Photo via the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

The chain expanded in 1934 to its iconic Main and Westport location. Upon opening, it was the largest drug store in the world at 20,000 sqft. With its expanded offerings — including household goods and groceries — Katz had a winning model.

Here’s a few of the amenities that wooed those early shoppers:

At the height of its empire, the Katz Drug Company operated 65 stores across nine states until the company merged with Skaggs in 1971.

Legacy on Main Street

Most of our readers are old enough to remember shopping at Katz, Skaggs, or Osco (which took over in 1985) before it finally closed in 2006.

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Katz eventually merged with Skaggs Drug Store in 1971, which then became Osco Drug by the mid 1980s.

Photo via the Missouri Valley Special Collection

Now, the Katz is getting new life with a six-story apartment development currently in the works. No need for claws the facade and its landmark clock tower will stay perfectly intact.

The mystery that started it all

So, back to the whole baseball thing. The only information on the Katz Drug Co.-sponsored team I could dredge up is this: It was a summertime ballclub in the local amateur Ban Johnson League that apparently went defunct around the time of the Skaggs merger. Besides that, there’s just a lot of cool merch for any noncommittal sports fans with KC ties. I would know, I’ve already got a crew jacket on my Christmas list.

Have memories or nostalgic pics of the Katz Drug Company you’d like to share? Drop us a line and we might feature it in the future installment.

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