Iconic grocer who is a Kansas City community staple to be recognized for nearly 5 decades of service

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

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.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.