On any given day you will find Leon Stapleton inside the door of Leon’s Thriftway on East 39th Street.
For nearly 50 years now, Leon’s Thriftway has been a source of fresh food and staples, as well as an anchor of stability, to the surrounding blocks of the Vineyard, Palestine and Seven Oaks neighborhoods. Older generations remember the days when people used to charge groceries to their accounts. They know Leon and have watched as the next generations have come to work for the family business.
The loyal customer base chooses to walk to the store rather than drive or take the bus to a bigger or newer store nearby.
And the store gives back. Leon’s donates food for gatherings in nearby Seven Oaks park and often provides food or bottled water for other get-togethers.
Leon’s opened shortly after the Kansas City riots following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and the store survived the urban decay that resulted when white populations fled to the suburbs. It stands strong today. In fact, Leon’s is believed to be the longest running Black-owned independent grocery store in the country. But even though our lifestyles (and shopping habits) have changed dramatically in nearly 50 years, little has changed at the store.
Leon’s Thriftway Needs an Update
It’s time for Leon’s Thriftway to update to appeal to customers changing times. In recent years development projects created with low-income tax credits—St. Michaels, Oak Point and Seven Oaks—have brought more people, especially younger families, to the area.
“The challenges here are that we need to make improvements,” Mitchell says.
She and other manager Tiffany Stapleton want to move the produce section from a crowded back corner to the front entrance and make energy efficient upgrades to save the business money in the long run. An old turnstile, which poses a problem for shoppers using canes, walkers or wheelchairs absolutely must go, and they would like to add some fresher convenience items for busy families.
“Just look at rotisserie chicken,” for example, says Tiffany Stapleton commenting on her own family’s meals. “I cook, but I need a rotisserie chicken, especially on game nights.”
KC Healthy Kids points to Leon’s as exactly the type of store that could benefit from fresh food financing, a program backed by a group of civic organizations to help grocers and food providers who play a critical role in the community.
The store was a highlight on a recent policy makers tour hosted by KC Healthy Kids. Lawmakers saw firsthand the difference a local grocery store can make in a low-income, at-risk community.
“Thriving communities have healthy people and good jobs,” says KC Healthy Kids vice president Beth Low-Smith, who oversees policy for the organization. “Local grocery stores (like Leon’s) are a good way to achieve all the those results.”
An update to Leon’s Thriftway would mean the cramped entry and turnstile would give way to a more open and welcoming arrangement that leads to a new produce department.
As the window signs (painted by a gentleman from the community) show, customers count on Leon’s for more than just food.
This is the first in our series on Leon’s Thriftway and the community it serves.
AUG 09, 2016 Kansas City needs fresh food fund for stores like Leon’s
AUG 21, 2016 Green spaces, grocery store helps Seven Oaks Neighborhood to thrive
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