When I first saw the signs on the Rite Aid drug stores showing the switch to Walgreens, it reminded me of the day in 1997 when I was driving on Canal Boulevard and saw a work crew taking down a store’s big purple K&B sign to be replaced with the Rite Aid logo. No offense to Rite Aid, but “KB” (as it was more commonly known) was part of us.
In its prime, locally-owned K&B, which eventually branched out to 185 stores across six states, was more than just a pharmacy, but a mini department store, plus a lunch counter and, perhaps most important, a dispenser of local culture, including the nectar sodas sold at the lunch counter. The company also had its own label of ice cream with its stellar flavor being a locally inspired Creole cream cheese. There were also K&B brand beer and whiskey, all sporting the famous purple logo.
Because of carnival and LSU, purple is already a well-established color in New Orleans traditions, but KB’s color was lighter and more distinctive. To us it was known simply as “KB purple.” (On garbage collection days the streetscape was colored with KB purple cans.)
Most of us had never heard of the New Jersey-based Rite Aid chain when it bought out K&B. It would have been a challenge for Rite Aid to pretend to be local, but it lost any pretense of that during its first Easter season when it did not carry any Elmer’s products, such as the Heavenly Hash or Gold Brick eggs. Neither did it carry the then locally-produced Merlin’s chocolate rabbits. Word spread quickly.
That was corrected in the following Easters, though there would never again be frozen cream cheese ice cream in the freezer. Overall Rite Aid was competent, but not spectacular. It was like the new neighbor who replaced the old neighbor who had been a close friend. The neighborhood wasn’t the same.
Whereas Rite Aid was a “new to town” successor to K&B, Walgreens is a powerhouse already well established in the community. It is not entering, but expanding.
While Rite Aid leaves no nostalgia, the K&B name at least survives as an item for memorabilia collectors and as a lyric in Benny Grunch’s song about local businesses that “Aint There No More.”
Sadly, Merlin’s chocolate rabbits, which was sold to the national Palmer Chocolate company, could also be on Grunch’s list. But blessed are survivors who still make products called Heavenly Hash and Gold Bricks. Certainly Walgreen’s knows you’re there.