Dan Leap, rock-and-roll city councilman, fights for Merriam's dull downtown shopping strip his way.

Headbanger's Mall 

Dan Leap, rock-and-roll city councilman, fights for Merriam's dull downtown shopping strip his way.

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For the past two years, Leap has raised hackles by putting up folksy dioramas in the front window of his store, Mechanical Art, that skewer his political opponents. Leap wants the on-street parking to stay. He has depicted those who would take it away as turkeys, Pinocchio and, of course, the Grinch Who Stole Merriam Parking.

Vandals have expressed their displeasure by breaking the store's windows, which has attracted television and print reporters and the kind of coverage that other small-town councilmen rarely receive. That attention, in turn, has only inflamed Leap's opponents, who wonder if the media-savvy Leap is throwing rocks at his own windows in the middle of the night.

All this over whether to widen some sidewalks.

Across the street from Mechanical Art, on the east side of the 5800 block of Merriam Drive at the heart of what passes for the city's downtown, stands the Leap family business, Total Comfort Heating and Cooling.

Leap's father, Bill Leap, started Total Comfort 26 years ago. He still spends much of the day in the field, making estimates. Pedestrians passing the store's window might see Dan Leap sitting at one of the four industrial-sized desks that form an L in the front room. Paperwork and dusty office equipment cover the desks' surfaces. A wall brims with file cabinets, training manuals, a coffee maker and a collection of Lennox model trucks.

Bill Leap learned the fine points of ventilation after choking on stench. After a stint in the Air Force, he married Dan's mother, Kathi, and tried raising hogs. "We couldn't eat because of the smell," he says. As their son does, Bill and Kathi Leap oppose the plan to widen Merriam's downtown sidewalks.

Total Comfort is a prosperous small business. Bill Leap's crew of workers expands and contracts with the seasons. Dan works at the shop, taking calls and contorting sheet metal in the back room. Bill half-jokingly says he gets only an hour's work a day from his son. Politics take the rest. "I got a really excellent gig," Dan admits, his voice sounding just like the actor Randy Quaid's.

At 5 p.m., Dan Leap crosses the street to Mechanical Art, which he opened in 2000. His girlfriend unlocks the place earlier in the afternoon, after working a shift at Adrian's Café in Overland Park.

Part gallery, party heavy-metal supply shop, part PG-rated Spencer Gifts, Mechanical Art exists mainly to show off Leap's guitar lamps. It also peddles incense; framed and autographed pictures of Ted Nugent; Sha Sha shoes; purses built from license plates; and novelty items, like Juicy Mullet gum (the package of which announces: "It's frikkin' tasty!"). The jukebox for sale might be one of the few outside New Jersey to carry six Bon Jovi CDs.

Mechanical Art shares a retail gene with head shops, but it doesn't stock anything in the way of one-hitters or urine cleansers. Leap abhors drugs, and he rarely drinks.

Leap's apartment above the store keeps up the hard-rock theme. All four of the pinball machines set against one wall celebrate rock acts (Nugent, Kiss, Guns N' Roses, the Rolling Stones). The kitchen appliances and cabinets are painted black with licks of orange flame, like a Trans Am's hood. The circular bed is wired to the same kind of mechanism Leap built for a drum riser, allowing it to spin 360 degrees. "He's like MacGyver," his amiable girlfriend, Shannon Wolf, says. They met cruising one night in Olathe and have dated for 13 years.

Leap lived with his parents in Shawnee until he moved above the shop. Living at home seems antithetical to the rock-and-roll lifestyle, but for a long time Leap played in a Christian rock band. The outfit, JC Roxx, took its name from the way a member of the '80s Messiah-and-mousse band Stryper signed his autograph. Leap learned to play guitar from Harvey Jett, a former member of Southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas who became a youth minister.

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