Dimming the lights at 'Store of the Stars' Krass Bros.' final sale is for its longtime home.

Posted: September 07, 2002

If you gotta go, go in a Krass Bros. suit.

So said Ben Krass, popping up out of a coffin, in a now legendary 10-second commercial for the menswear store that he and his brothers ran for about 50 years on South Street.

Now, Ben Krass himself is about to go, surely in a Krass Bros. suit. Not to the afterlife but to life after running one of the more colorful stores in Philadelphia's merchandising history. The tag line on his commercials, for example, was, "If you didn't buy your clothes at Krass Bros., you wuz robbed!"

Krass is selling his building at 901 South St. and going out of business. He's even selling the pictures of celebrities - including Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Jack E. Leonard - that lined the walls, for $10 a piece. The business billed itself as the Store of the Stars.

"They'll give me the check on the 12th [of September, for the building] and then I'll be outta here," Krass said this week.

Outside, signs on the store's windows announced "Store closing, 50 percent off." Two of the store's three tattered burgundy awnings were sloping toward the sidewalk. Inside, racks of clothing and empty racks sat in disarray awaiting packers. During an hour and a half while a reporter visited on Thursday, not one customer entered the store.

Krass, who admits to being 52 years old (by most accounts, 31 years or so shy of reality), was upbeat and nattily attired, albeit a bit unsteady on his feet, in a tan, lapel-less suit with white tie secured by a diamond pin, as he oversaw closing preparations.

Last spring, Krass said that he planned to sell because business had been off since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This week, he said the store had been doing well, making "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in the first five months of the year, and he blamed the closing on this summer's unusually hot weather.

During the store's best years, Krass said, he had eight salesmen - six full time - and four women working on administration. More recently, he had two salesmen and two women working on the books and the cash register.

Bookkeeper Josie Theodore, who was with Krass Bros. for 45 years, said that although Krass didn't want to retire, "it was getting to be too much for him. He loves to keep busy. Business was down. He wasn't advertising like he used to," she said, adding that "he kept getting offers for the building."

She said any remaining clothing would go to charity, possibly the Salvation Army.

Mary Palladino, a former cashier, said yesterday: "I worked here for nine years, and I loved every minute of it."

Although by all accounts Krass Bros. did well over the years, the store declared bankruptcy in 1999 after city officials said Krass owed $339,339 in back wage taxes. Krass himself has always lived well, owning a succession of at least four Rolls-Royces including his yellow Rolls, of which he'll only say: "It's away. I didn't sell it."

In 1984, Krass Bros. had $2.1 million in sales, store accountant Earl Morganstern testified before the city's Tax Review Board in April 1997. By 1996, sales had dropped off to $502,000, Morganstern said. He would not disclose more recent figures this week.

The store was founded in 1948 by Krass and his brothers, Jacob and Harry. Jacob died in 1963 and Harry a few years ago.

The store moved from 937 South St. to its current location in 1985.

Two of Harry's sons, Stacy and Russell, were killed in a robbery at their store on Frankford Avenue in 1993. Another son, Victor, operates three Krass Plus stores, including the one on Frankford Avenue and one at the Gallery that are not connected to the Krass Bros. store. Those stores will remain open.

Tony Battaglia, vice president of Plumer & Associates, which is handling the sale of the 901 South St. building owned by Krass and his brother Harry's widow, Joan, said the property was being sold to investors who were seeking a tenant.

Although Krass insists he will never retire - he hints at a number of possibilities - as movers took boxes of clothing out of his store yesterday, it was clear that he was about to go. As one of his favorite sayings goes: "Try your best and leave the rest."

Contact Thomas J. Brady at 215-854-2525 or tbrady@phillynews.com.

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