Before Walmart or Target, there was Red-X.
A fixture in the Northland’s Riverside community for more than 65 years, Red-X is not your average general store. For one, it’s monolithic. The L-shaped building takes up about 85,000 square feet. It’s a grocer, deli, pharmacy, liquor store, hardware store and unofficial museum.
But as the Northland grows, second-generation Red-X owner Zeke Young says staying competitive is becoming more challenging. A recent survey conducted by Associated Wholesale Grocers revealed that within a 5-mile radius of Red-X there are 50 stores with grocery items.
Red-X began as a filling station in 1948. “They built a little building, had some gas pumps, had a $150 inventory to start out with and so it became the Red-X,” Zeke Young, son of founder Ed Young, explains. Zeke took over the store after his dad died in 1999.
The name Red-X comes from the company the filling station got its gas from. Plus, Zeke jokes, “My dad always wanted a nice four letter word.”
As Ed set out to build a successful business he ended up creating something much bigger along the way: a city. Though Riverside was a community for more than a century, it wasn’t an official city.
Zeke said that when his father heard a rumor that both Parkville and Kansas City were interested in annexing Riverside, Ed got together with Fred Filger, founder of Filger Oil Company, and local attorney and developer Vic Panus to organize a meeting with the city of Parkville. Parkville agreed not to annex Riverside’s land but convinced them to incorporate to avoid annexation by Kansas City. Riverside became incorporated in 1951.
Filger was elected mayor of Riverside and Ed served as one of the city’s first aldermen.
Ed’s dedication to his community was lifelong. After serving as an alderman for 19 years he was elected mayor of Riverside in 1976. Current Riverside Mayor Kathy Rose says her mother was the city clerk at the time and the two became fast friends. Her family shopped at Red-X often.
“Ed was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word,” says Rose. “He ran his business very sternly. And I mean that in a very nice way.”
As a young girl, her favorite spectacle in the store was seeing her distorted image in the carnival mirrors. “Now we’ve got all these apps on our phones that do that. That was way ahead of the times,” she says.
Ed was a collector, and Red-X was his showroom.
Glass eyeballs, teeth, small figurines and large statues can still be found all over the store. His favorite items to collect were bells. “He got my mom a bell for her birthday and that started the bell collecting,” says Zeke. At one point, Zeke estimates his father had more than 10,000 bells.
Today, the bell collection is down to 984 after many were lost in the 1993 flood and more were auctioned off after Ed passed away. However, looking at the rows and rows of handheld bells in the store’s glass display cases, it’s difficult to imagine how any more could possibly fit.
While Red-X stands out today, the store was even more unconventional during Ed’s time. He had live animals greet customers. Ed had a monkey, a parrot, and a raccoon, all in cages, outside the store. “Nowadays you wouldn’t be able to do that,” says Zeke.
Picking up after the 1993 flood
In 1993, flood waters filled Red-X, stopping just a few inches from the ceiling. The family lost a lot of antiques and most of their inventory. But Red-X managed to come back after the flood, and it wasn’t the first time. The store has a history of surviving disasters. The floods in 1951 and 1952 and a fire in 1957 all threatened to close the store but Ed never questioned rebuilding — “Dad always said a lot of stores had grand openings, and he had a lot of grand closings,” says Zeke.
Zeke remembers sitting in front of Red-X with his dad after the 1993 flood. Zeke asked him what he was going to do. His dad, in his eighties at the time, replied, “These people need jobs. We’re gunna clean it up and open it back up.”
Zeke never had any intention of owning the store. His passion for sports led him into coaching and then
later into school administration in Springfield, Missouri. But after his dad died, he wanted to keep the tradition alive.
Red-X continues to grow with the community
Ed’s dedication to the community lives on today in Riverside. The culture in the Northland, Rose says, is about connectivity and relationships.
“Everybody is willing to help somebody. It is very philanthropic up here,” she says. “Riversidians are very loyal to their businesses,” she adds. “It was just kind of an expectation that you shop where you live.”
Today Red X’s biggest sellers are the liquor and tobacco products, says Zeke.
Surveying customers outside the store on a hot Friday afternoon, Troy and Bobbi Leonard came from Wyandotte County, Kansas for one thing. “Cheap cigarettes,” says Troy. They make the trip once or twice a month to buy a couple cartons and to dodge the Kansas taxes.
Reginald Long travels from Kansas City's Midtown neighborhood a few times a month and says he shops for a little of everything. Plus, “They got handicap carts and they got pretty good sales,” he says.
Red-X’s low prices, uniqueness and dedication to customer service helps them stay competitive says Zeke. The store that began as a filling station continues to evolve today. Now customers can attend wine tastings, shop the growing health food selection, or pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.
“We don’t have everything but there’s a lot of things that the other stores don’t have that we have,” says Zeke. “You wouldn’t see no store like it anywhere.”
This look at the Missouri River is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.