Big-box retail veteran Leo Kahn dies at 94

New York City -- Veteran retailer Leo Kahn, who developed his family-owned wholesale business into the Purity Supreme chain, co-founded Staples, and pioneered selling natural foods in supermarket-sized venues, died on Wednesday in Boston. He was 94.

Kahn was 69 when the first Staples store opened. He was in his 70s when he founded the Fresh Fields and Nature’s Heartland natural foods chains, both of which were eventually acquired by Whole Foods Market. (Purity Supreme became part of the Stop & Shop chain.) He also launched the Heartland grocery store chain, which in the 1970s was an early experiment in warehouse-style shopping.

“Leo was an incredibly savvy guy,’’ said Thomas Stemberg, who cofounded Staples with Mr. Kahn in 1986 and now is managing partner of the Highland Consumer Fund at Highland Capital Partners, the Boston Globe reported. “He had a huge brain, but he had an even bigger heart. Leo is one of the kindest individuals one could ever imagine.’’

“Leo Kahn was a brilliant food retailer who had vision, leadership, and strong competitive abilities,’’ John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, said in a statement. “I admired him greatly and was glad that I was able to meet him and learn from him over the years.

Kahn was well-known for his philanthropy, which included endowing two professorships at Harvard and encouraging education about the Holocaust.

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