Minneapolis: Remembering the good old days as Kaplan Bros., Inc., closes its doors

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Kaplan Brothers store, founded in 1926 on the corner of Franklin and Bloomington, and relocated to Lake Street and 15th in 1988 after a terrible fire, closed for good on Feb. 16, 2013, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.

Some musicians introduced me to Kaplan’s almost immediately upon my arrival in Minneapolis, in 1981. I bought my first pair of winter boots there, which finally wore out 16 years later. I had paid $16 for them so I thought that was a pretty good deal. For years they showed not one sign of wear.

I went to Kaplan’s at the first snow this winter to get new boots (now they cost $40, which, if I can rely on precedent, my kids will inherit …) and while shopping thought I’d get some socks, too, those wool Army socks I’ve worn every winter since 1981. They were out. I went back a few weeks later and learned that the company didn’t make them anymore and furthermore had gone out of business.

(Photo by Ashley Pederson)

Then a guy named Terry Hokanson sent an email to Southside Pride saying that Kaplan’s was going out of business. He had posted the news on facebook and had received an immediate outpouring of dismay and sadness. He himself had this to say: “As the son of blue collar parents, living in a hype-driven commercial world, I always felt like Kaplan’s was the Real McCoy, a store for my kind of people—fun-loving, plain-talking, hard-working. You didn’t go there for status brands and frills; you went there for durable clothes that would get the job done and last more than one season. And you paid prices that obviously weren’t covering a bloated advertising budget. Kaplan’s didn’t bother with hype. They just walked the walk.”

Founded in 1926 by Joseph and Jacob Kaplan, the store stayed in the hands of the Kaplan family for 60 years. An outside manager was hired in 1955, when Joseph died. Over the years, his brother Jacob, who died in 1978, and the descendants of both brothers kept the store going. They were all owners, but some worked in the store and some didn’t.

The building was destroyed by fire in 1986. The owners that didn’t work in the store wanted to reopen and those who did work in the store wanted to let it go.

The final decision was to sell the inventory and the name. Four people who had worked in the store bought the business as well as a new property at the corner of Lake Street and 15th Avenue South.

They lost business for a couple of years when Lake Street was closed for repaving. That was a blow.

In December of 2009, a pipe burst and the basement flooded all the way up to 3 feet deep on the first floor. A huge amount of inventory was lost; the sidewalk in front, with the forest wreath patterns stamped into the tinted cement, caved in and had to be replaced; the store was closed for nearly four months, and even with insurance, it was pretty impossible to dig out.

Another factor is that a number of Kaplan’s supplier companies have disappeared, like Burnsville Hosiery, which made the fabulous Army socks; or the company that made the popular thin white cotton socks with gold threads in the toes (Lisle), in business over 100 years, that went belly-up when cotton prices went up; or the manufacturer of thin socks in individual sizes, from whom Kaplan’s received a letter a few years ago: “We haven’t made money since 1991, so we are closing.”

Some of their biggest suppliers forced them to raise prices, which also hurt business.

Another problem: There hadn’t been as great a demand for warm outdoor clothing because there had been no winters for a long time. The manager, Tim Grant, said, “It’s been at least 10 years.”

Also, according to Grant, the demand for work clothes has decreased, because, there is no work and working people aren’t working.

11 thoughts on “Minneapolis: Remembering the good old days as Kaplan Bros., Inc., closes its doors

  1. Been there done that when I was working construction back in the 70,80. and still have a pair of insulated coveralls. I used to buy yellow gloves & resell them to guys at work. Now the closest thing is fleet farm and they are moving on to. It was a nice read. Tom

  2. In the mid 1920’s, my father worked as a photographer in a little photo studio on the roof of Kaplan’s. I was a teacher at Adams elementary school on Franklin in the 1950’s and the little building was still on the roof. My dad was a small man and Kaplans was the only place he could find mens’ trousers in his size. I have some photos he took from the roof of Kaplans. I’m now 85.

  3. How sad, I’m a 63 year old woman who remembers my dad and brothers always buying their work clothes here. Was gonna go down there today to find they cl I sedan in 2013. Truly breaks my heart.

  4. Kaplans was the best. We always went to Kaplans for all our Underwear, Socks, T-Shirts etc. Seemed as though they would not wear out. They had the best Winter Coats, Jeans & Flannel Shirts, which by the way you can hardly find a good one anymore. My Father was in the Trades and it was considered high time to go to Kaplans. So sorry to hear about the closing. Was just thinking of heading down there. I have been out of State for 20 years. I also remember just to the West of the Store a little Barber Shop we always went to & they took your picture with a Poloroid & Post them in the window, when that was still considered safe by the Parents.

  5. anyone have a pic of the boot kaplan bros made in 80s leather insole thoes were the best boots ever 6″ soft cushend leather ankle area wedge sole closest things to thows were georgia boots they sold after they quit making them

  6. I came to US in Sept. of 1978 and lived in Mpls. as a student. As everybody else, we shopped at Kaplan’s all the time. Great memory of the store. I would to see some pictures of the original store. Thanks.

  7. Yes like everyone else I remember Kaplan Brothers since I was 5. My Father was a Tradesman and it was like going to the State Fair when we made the trip to Kaplans. Dads work and most of his entire wardrobe was purchased here. Being his only Son mine was as well. From Socks & Underwear that never wore out to Jeans & Flannel Shirts & Outerwear regardless of the season. Thanks for the memories. I also had my haircut at the neighboring Barbershop & had my picture taken & displayed as well. Sure miss the simple times. Who remembers the old Franklin Fruit Grocery?

    • I remember franklin fruit and the old hellers and lavoskies the penny candy store and pet haven next to franklin fruit and the old adams school. Grew up on 1rth and franklin grils or guys we all shopped there cause the cloths lasted longer then girls jeans did

  8. Out family went to Kaplan’s for three generations. Where are we going to get our chopper mittens? I loved the crooked floor. It was always fun to go to Kaplan’s to buy Christmas presents. Best place ever.

  9. I grew up in south Minneapolis in the 60s/70s. My dad would take us to what he called the “Franklin Avenue Varsity Shop” when we needed gloves, boots, or some other good work clothes. Always seemed to be bustling with people happy to be there.

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