Oldest Black-Owned Grocery Store Shuts Down After 51 Years in Business

Leon's Thriftway, Black-owned grocery store

The historic and country’s oldest Black-owned grocery store Leon’s Thriftway has closed its doors in the past week marking the end of its 51 years in the business. Leon Stapleton, the now 93-year old owner, mentioned that poor sales due to lack of support was the main reason for their closing.
Leon’s Thriftaway’s history dates back in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The tragedy helped paved the way for an opportunity for Blacks to open a business. Leon Stapleton was then able to get an SBA loan that he used to rent the property where the grocery store has been standing for over five decades.

Vernon Stapleton, Leon’s son who is now 62-years old, said he was just 11-years old when he started working at their family business. His siblings had their first job there and his mother was also a part of the business until she died a few years ago.

However, the store experienced difficult times when they could no longer keep up with the other grocery stores in the area. “Everything’s old fashioned. It’s like from That ’70s Show or something. It needs to be redone, re-imagined, a whole lot of re’s in there,” Vernon Stapleton told the U.S. News.

When the Stapleton family decided to close the grocery stores, long-time customers became sad.

“It’s kind of sad. I hate to see them go,” Eugene Coody, a frequent shopper at the grocery store where he also pays his light and gas bills, and cashes his paycheck, told The Kansas City Star.

“We’re sick about it, just sick,” said Jaunita Jackson, who lives near the grocery. “We have different places we could go but you have to get in the car to get there or have to get on the highway. They have always been nice and friendly. They’ve been a jewel for the community.”

Despite the closing of the 51-year old store, Vernon is positive that they will still be able to continue doing business. Their family owns a liquor store near the grocery and a laundromat in the Seven Oaks strip mall which will both remain open.

“I’m focusing on closing, but I’m not focused on closing for good,” Vernon said. “I don’t have any quit in me and nor do my sisters, daughter, even my father.”

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