KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He overcame racism, poverty, and fierce competition in a growing industry. On Wednesday, a longtime Kansas City grocer will be recognized by Jackson County Executive Frank White.
If you watch Leon Stapleton interact with his customers, it`s no secret that many have lots of respect, affection and admiration for him, yet he remains humble about what others say he`s accomplished.
The day before his big honor, Stapleton was greeting his customers and straightening up his store. He walks the aisles every morning, and is humble about the proclamation.
“I don`t know if I deserve it or not, but I`ll accept it,” he told FOX 4’s Mary Pulley.
It`s far too modest of a response for those who admire his accomplishments. He's an icon for folks in the community. Stapleton became the first African American in Kansas City to own a grocery store chain. That was back in 1968, and he’s stayed hard at work ever since.
The store on East 39th Street was a space no one wanted when he decided to open up shop. The space had been fire bombed during riots, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Twenty-one years before, Stapleton faced discrimination head on during his first day working for a local Safeway store, when his boss introduced to him to his all-white co-workers.
“They all put their hand behind their backs except two of them. Those two went on to be successful business people,” he recalled.
So what`s been the key to Stapleton`s success?
“I believe in Karma I guess. I think the man above is keeping me here for some reason,” he said.
Stapleton`s store has also survived, while other inner-city stores fold from losing customers to big box retailers. Stapleton hasn`t been without the lean times, saying his store still struggles financially, but he knows its future is in good hands thanks to family.
At one point all seven of Stapleton`s children, and some of his grandchildren, have worked in the store. He says he`s trained them well, and is confident they`ll keep the doors open.
“I just believe we`re going to make it. With my top crew, my granddaughters and my sons and a few others, they believe we`re going to make it too,” he affirmed.
The ceremony is set for 9 a.m., with his family and loyal customers expected to attend the celebration.