The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, April 28, 2002  

Krass Bros. of South Street to Close

"Time was, Ben Krass would gleefully bound from rack to rack to pick out suits for the likes of Joey Bishop or Muhammad Ali, his yellow Rolls-Royce parked out front of the family clothing store on South Street. But now, it is a different story for Philadelphia's best-known haberdasher -- the unabashed fan of polyester whose over-the-top television commercials for years put the 'k' in crass," writes Michael Klein in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Ben Krass," the owner of the store, "wants out," Klein reports. "He is selling Krass Bros., the 'Store of the Stars,' down to the bare walls. The walls, too. In typical retailing style, Krass has priced the store to go. Not at $2 million. At $1,999,000."

No surprise, really. "The sales floor -- whose walls are lined with promotional glossies of such long-ago names as the Dovells, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Birdie Castle and his Stardusters, and the Ink Spots -- has seemed to be growing emptier by the day. On one wall rack Friday morning, an all-white leisure suit that screamed Saturday Night Fever was the lone piece of merchandise," Klein says.

Krass has no plans to retire, according to Klein. " 'Retire? Flat tire?' he quipped, deflecting such talk. 'But I still might go to Florida to open a store in Miami Beach.' "

"In his younger days, Krass was a boulevardier who tooled around town in his yellow Rolls and club-hopped with the women till dawn," reports Klein. "Nowadays, the Rolls is off the boulevard, parked in a garage. Though he still likes to go out, he keeps somewhat earlier hours. Single 'since the Last Supper,' he said he was preparing to move into a retirement community from his Rittenhouse Square bachelor pad."

Krass made a name for himself in the 1960s with a slew of 10-second television commercials, created on a budget and written by and starring Krass himself. "One particularly memorable spot had Krass inside a coffin, popping up to exclaim: 'If you gotta go, go in a Krass Bros. suit!'" (New Yorkers may remember commercials of a similar genre starring the heavily accented Mrs. Potamkin, who helped the family hawk Cadillacs to Long Islanders.)

Sadly, Krass has survived all three of his children. Sons Stacy and Russell were mudered in the Krass Plus store on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia in 1993. Son Harry died four years ago.

Krass had some great one-liners, Klein reports, not unlike the late, great Yogi Berra. Our favorite Krassism: "I'm a card? I'm no card. I'm the whole deck."

Hang in there, Ben, you did a helluva job.

[Note: This story was corrected after initial publication. Initially I referred to Krass's son Stacy as a daughter. My apologies.]

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