Written for Sidewalk.com, 1998
If you're wondering where grandma still finds her patio dresses and long legs, Kaplan's-Ben Hur may be her secret source. This unadorned department store on Yale is delightfully frozen in the 1950s while the rest of the neighborhood gradually submits to the 21st-century. Enter Kaplan's and step back to a time when shop tenders were more like extended family and merchandise could be paid for "on account." Despite its fast food neighbors, Kaplan's remains an unyielding fixture, family-run for 85 years, with patron's from almost as far back.
Martin Kaplan, the current proprietor, is as friendly and helpful as the man who sold you your first pair of Buster Brown's. Martin's grandfather, Dave Kaplan, started the business in 1913 and passed it on to his two son's Bennett (Martin's father) and Herman, hence the catchy name Kaplan's Ben Hur. (Sorry to disappoint all you Charleton Heston fans.) What began as an Old West-style general/feed store evolved over the years to its current one-story department store structure. Though they don't carry cotton seed meal anymore, Kaplan's still has some old-fashioned merchandise, like hand-embroidered doilies, white linen baby bonnets, and pastilles in ornate tin boxes. And if you're ever missing mom, the mostly female staff at Kaplan's can satisfy your need for nurturing. On a cold day, you'd be surprised if they didn't ask if you were dressed warm enough. Many of these women are native Houstonian's, some even grew up in The Heights and remember collecting Kaplan's trading stamps, or receiving a free toy on their birthdays.
The most impressive corner of Kaplan's is the pastel colored Lingerie Department. Sandra McGee, who shopped at Kaplan's with her grandmother in the 1950s, can show you around and educate you to the subtle distinctions between a mu-mu, a patio dress, and a model coat. An ample selection of girdles, full and half-slips, and long legs or flairs (knee-length nylon underwear) reveals the age of some of their clientele. The Gift Department, with impeccably tidy glass shelves, has figurines by M.J. Hummel, Royal Doulton and Lladro that are aesthetically arranged with the pride of grandma's curios cabinet. The Housewares section has tea, coffee, shortbread, hard candy, jams and jellies. Here you'll find one of the best selections of Texas cookbooks and Texas foodstuff in Houston. The Stationary Department has tasteful greeting cards, puzzles, photo albums and assorted Bridge paraphernalia-- essential tools of the grandma trade.
Kaplan's was sold and demolished in 2005
Formerly located at:
2125 Yale St
Houston, TX 77008