Leo Kahn (entrepreneur)

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Leo Kahn
Born(1916-12-31)December 31, 1916
Medford, Massachusetts
DiedMay 11, 2011(2011-05-11) (aged 94)
Boston, Massachusetts
Alma materHarvard University (B.A., 1938)
Columbia University (M.A., Journalism, 1939)
OccupationAmerican businessman and reporter
Known forCo-founder of Staples Inc.
Spouse(s)Dorothy Davidson Kahn (1963-1975)
Children3 (including Joseph Kahn)

Leo Kahn (December 31, 1916 – May 11, 2011) was an American reporter and businessman. He is credited as the co-founder of Staples Inc.[1][2] Kahn is also considered a pioneer of the natural and health food supermarket industry, founding the Fresh Fields and Nature's Heartland chains, which are now part of Whole Foods Market.[1]


Early life[edit]

Kahn was born in Medford, Massachusetts, as the youngest of two brothers.[1] His parents, who were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, owned a wholesale food distributor.[1][3] Kahn graduated from Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts.[1][4]

Kahn received a bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1938.[1] He then obtained a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City in 1939.[1] He worked a reporter in New Bedford, Massachusetts,[2] and practiced public relations for political campaigns until he was drafted into the U.S. military in 1941 as the U.S. entered World War II.[1] He was stationed in North Africa, Europe and Asia as a navigator for the Army Air Forces.[1]

He and his brother, Albert Kahn, took over the family's wholesale business following the end of World War II.[1] Leo Kahn became the sole owner of the business when Albert left the company to become a professor at Boston University.[1]

Kahn married his first wife, Dorothy Davidson, in 1963 and had three children.[1] The family resided in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, until Dorothy Kahn's death in 1975.[1]

Purity Supreme[edit]

Leo Kahn continued to operate his family's wholesale food distributor. However, he also launched a new grocery retailing division, which became known as Purity Supreme.[5] The company initially opened small groceries, but then expanded to supermarkets.[5] The Purity Supreme company also included the Heartland Foods Warehouse, which was called "the first successful deep-discount warehouse supermarket in the country" by Inc Magazine.[5]

One Kahn's biggest rivals was Thomas G. Stemberg, the owner of a competing New England supermarket chain called First National Supermarkets. At one point, Kahn and Stemberg engaged in a price war over the lower price for Thanksgiving turkeys.[5]

Kahn sold Purity Supreme to the Supermarkets General Corporation in 1984 for $80 million.[5] Through the transaction, Kahn became the chairman of Supermarket General.[5] Privately, Kahn regretted selling Purity, saying he missed the interaction with his employees.[1]


Leo Kahn died at the Springhouse care facility in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston from a series of strokes on May 11, 2011, at the age of 94.[1][2][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Marquard, Bryan (2011-05-12). "Leo Kahn, co-founder of Staples, dies at 94". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  2. ^ a b c Shapiro, T. Rees (2011-05-14). "Leo Kahn, entrepreneur who helped found Staples office-supply business, dies at 94". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  3. ^ Alan D. Abbey (May 23, 2011). "The Eulogizer: Staples co-founder Leo Kahn, violinist Endre Wolf". JTA. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
  4. ^ » Is Leo Kahn Jewish Jew of the Week
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Martin, Douglas (2011-05-12). "Leo Kahn, Trailblazer in Big-Box Retailing, Dies at 94". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-22.