November 12, 2005
The last days of Kaplan's-Ben Hur

The closing of Heights landmark Kaplan's-Ben Hur continues to generate stories of reminiscence.

Martin Kaplan has thrived on maintaining personal contact with his customers, staying out on the floor each day. The office work he must do is reserved for after the doors close.

"My customers are my friends," Kaplan said. "This is where I want to be, waiting on my customers, enjoying what I am doing. But the economics are very different now and that is not going to change. It's just time to hang it up."

Wilma Luedke of Shepherd Forest has shopped at Kaplan's for 50 years.

"Everyone in this area is so sad they are closing," Luedke said. "This was a real interesting store. This is where you went to get one-of-a-kind gifts. I got to talk to Mr. Kaplan each time I was here shopping and he was a delight."

Similarly sad is Ann Rideout, a Memorial-area resident who has patronized Kaplan's since 1941.

"Kaplan's was a part of my growing up in the Heights," Rideout said. "It was always a treat to go to Kaplan's with my mother. She would get dressed up, including gloves and a hat, and I would go shopping with her. I have so many fond memories of that."

Items she purchased years ago remain of great sentimental value to Rideout.

"My first purchase was at this store in 1941," she said. "I was a young girl and I bought a vase for my mother for Mother's Day. I still have that vase and a punch bowl I bought here, too."

Eva Jones, a former Heights resident who relocated to the FM 1960 and U.S. 290 area, continued to drive to the Heights to shop at Kaplan's.

"This is where I shopped through the 1950s and 1960s when I was decorating my first home," Jones said. "They have quality merchandise here. I still have a cookie jar I purchased in the 1950s, and when I look at it I think of the store. There is sentimental value in the things I have purchased here."

LaNell Benge moved to the Jersey Village area, but continued to shop at Kaplan's.

"I bought all of my granddaughters and great-granddaughters their collectible Madame Alexander dolls here, and would continue buying them here for great-great-granddaughters if the store wasn't closing," Benge said. "Many of the dolls are now antiques, like me."

I know the world is a different place now and that there's lots of good reasons to shop at the big box places, but does anyone think that if WalMart ever goes under people will say things like this about them?

Finally, I learn the answer to a question that's bugged me for years:

Beginning in the 1920s, the store was renamed Kaplan's and was moved to 2125 Yale, directly across the street from the original store. Kaplan's operated throughout the Depression era and expanded into a brick department store, selling name-brand and designer apparel.

After World War II, sons Bennett and Herman joined their parents in running the business. A brick extension was added to the original store, where home furnishings and kitchen items were sold by Bennett, Herman and Bennett's wife Dorothy, known as "D.D."

It was named Ben Hur to reflect the brothers' names.

The stores merged into the present day Kaplan's-Ben Hur in the late 1950s. Renovations to expand the building to 30,000 square feet were completed in the mid-1960s.

Thank you! I knew there had to be a reason for that unusual name. That makes sense.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 12, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

this was perhaps the most intact department store left in Houston. altough its doors have beeen closed its still open in our hearts and memory.

Posted by: emilia heartthrone on December 12, 2006 9:24 AM

I bought a baby blanket there about 2years ago that was made to look like a blur puppy.

Any idea who the manufacture might be? Everyone having babies wants one!

Posted by: Patty Trussel on December 26, 2006 4:59 PM