Kansas City renames street for longtime businessman and his wife

Jim Cunningham
August 27, 2018 - 8:52 am
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Leon Stapleton got his start in the grocery business in 1946, right after World War II. Later on, two men offered to help him buy what is now known as Leon's Thriftway at 4400 East 39th St.

He's been there more than half a century. 

"Fifty years," Mr. Stapleton said. "I spent 21 years with Safeway before I came here."

Approaching his 93rd birthday, Mr. Stapleton still makes a point to stop in every day.

"I'm surrounded by competition; it's surprising I'm still here," he said.

Rex Worboys is a district sales manager with Associated Wholesale Grocers. He first met Leon in 1992.

"If you went in early in the morning especially, you might run into Leon sitting in the back, drinking coffee and telling stories about Buck O'Neil or Ollie Gates, or both of them," Worboys said. "There was always something going on around here."

Mr. Stapleton's son, Vernon, is one of many family members who have spent most of their lives at Leon's Thriftway.

"All seven of us, the children, grew up here," Vernon said. "Three of us still work here, my daughter works here, my granddaughter works here."

"We're trying to give it a go because it's worth it," Vernon said.

Tiffany Stapleton is one of Leon's 13 grandchildren. She can't see doing anything else.

"It's bigger than a lot of people think; it's not even about career or money, it's about a legacy with us," Tiffany said. "A few of us have left good-paying jobs just to come back and be a part of this whole thing, to see my grandpa happy because it's still up and going."

"It's a big deal," Tiffany said.

Leon says he couldn't have run the Thriftway without his wife Willosia. She died in 2009.

"We were married 62 years," Mr. Stapleton said. "We were together a long time and she was behind me, every move I wanted to make."

Saturday, the city decided to honor the couple, naming a section of 39th Street, from Indiana to Cleaver Boulevard, Leon and Willosia Stapleton Way. 

"It's quite an honor," Mr. Stapleton said, chuckling. "I never expected a thing like this."

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