Business

After 58 years in business, Lipari Brothers Thriftway is closing

Lipari Brothers Thriftway’s Pam (center) and John Lipari have depended on employee Mary Allen since she started there in 1968.
Lipari Brothers Thriftway’s Pam (center) and John Lipari have depended on employee Mary Allen since she started there in 1968. The Kansas City Star

There’s the gentleman who has been buying his lottery tickets at the store every week for years. The two kids who come in with their dad to get lollipops. The guys who cash their checks from the scrapyard. The older gentleman who cried in the produce aisle when he realized a longtime employee still remembers his mother.

All of them have to say goodbye.

“I tell you, this is the toughest thing,” Pam Lipari said, her eyes brimming. “You’ll have to forgive me a little bit.”

For 58 years, Lipari Brothers Thriftway at 800 Kansas Ave. has served the Armourdale neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan. The store will close this weekend, a victim of the area’s stagnant growth.

Pam’s husband, John Lipari, owns the store. He started as a 10-year-old bagging potatoes in the back — “your apron was almost to the floor,” Mary Allen remembers. At 86, she has been working at Thriftway as long as “Johnny.”

John Lipari’s father was one of the original Lipari brothers who opened the grocery in the 1950s. The store has seen generations of the neighborhood’s families; the Liparis have a habit of hiring old employee’s children.

John Lipari, Pam Lipari and Mary Allen know just about everyone who walks into the store. They’ll throw a cookout Saturday around 11 a.m. to thank them all.

“You almost want to call around (to other stores) and tell them, ‘Take care of these people for us,’” Pam Lipari said. “You just worry about the people and what’s going to happen and their lives. Who’s going to sign their ticket when their check’s coming and we know they’re going to have their money but they don’t have it yet? And they’ve got to eat. No one’s going to sign those tickets anymore.”

One customer, Mary Zavala, has shopped at the store since she was a teenager. She remembers John Lipari as a little boy.

“I was shocked, totally shocked, when Mary (Allen) told me they were going to close,” Zavala said. “And I know John is totally devastated. I can see it in his eyes.”

The demographics of the area have changed over the years, but Pam Lipari said the store has always been whatever the community needed.

“I think as they changed, we changed,” she said. “And whoever was living around here came and worked for us. We just always absorbed whoever and became whoever we needed to be, like a little community, and everybody loved it.”

According to her husband, the lack of growth in the area doomed the store. He likens the grocery business in Armourdale to a pie that more and more businesses have stolen pieces from.

“So there’s not much left,” he said. “So I just made a decision that it’s time to go. I’ve never had to lay anybody off ever, and I don’t want to start laying people off. We saw a decline about five years ago; we started seeing it because this store up the road opened up next door.”

The grocery stores left in the area are Save-A-Lot grocery and Sun Fresh market, each about two miles away, John Lipari said. A new Walmart Neighborhood Market, also two miles from Lipari Thriftway, should open later this year.

For John Lipari, the hardest part has been saying his goodbyes. Mary Allen has been at the store for 46 years, the meat cutter has been there for 27 years and some of the women at the registers have spent 20 years or better at Thriftway. The responsibility he feels keeps him up at night.

Most of all, though, he wants to thank the customers and staff who have been loyal to his family and the store. He has already sold the building to Family Dollar, and everyone is hoping the new owners will keep some of Thriftway’s employees.

The Liparis plan to stay in the grocery business in at least one way, Pam Lipari said. They’re hoping they can keep making their Italian sausage.

“And it’s still going to be in a coil because that’s our signature, that’s the way it was supposed to be made,” Pam Lipari said. “We’ll try to get it into some stores, try to get it out.”

Until then, Pam Lipari said she and John will take a break for a few months. Pam has been at the store since she married John 32 years ago, and John has been picking up as many hours as he could for nearly 50 years.

“We’re just going to, I don’t know, just breathe and figure out whether we can live together in the same room all the time,” Pam said with a laugh. “No, we’ll be fine. He’s my best friend. I know we’re going to be all right. It’s just, it’s sad to see things change. And change happens.”

To reach Molly Duffy, call 816-234-4072 or send email to mduffy@kcstar.com.

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