Empty shelves at only grocery store in Akron angers residents; farming town becomes 'food desert'

AKRON, Colo. - On Colorado's eastern plains, there is a small community proud to be American, proud to be farmers and proud to have a stoplight -- one stoplight.

They also have a grocery store -- one grocery store -- but it seems lately, no one in town is proud of that.

"They don't have any produce -- no fresh produce at all," said resident Kimberly Weninger, as she pushed her cart down the aisle of Bella's market near downtown Akron. "This was the lunch meat section. There is no lunch meat."

In undercover video shot by 7NEWS, we found no fresh meat, no eggs and not many staples on the store's shelves. 

"We are wheat farmers, and we can't buy wheat flour in Akron," said Weninger.

The irony isn't lost on anyone in town.

A community where farmers and ranchers produce what we eat has become what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a "food desert," urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.

The closest fresh groceries are more than 20 miles away in the town of Brush, a difficult commute for the large senior population.

Rosalee Ellen, 84, said it is a hardship for her.

"I don't like to get in my car and drive to Brush by myself," said Ellen. "But recently there were no eggs. No eggs anywhere."

It has become such a problem that when 7NEWS Reporter Jaclyn Allen showed up to ask about it, so did two dozen townspeople, in an impromptu community meeting.

"We can't buy formula in Akron," said Annette Bowin, the Akron town clerk.

"At Easter, there were no eggs," said George Reese, a longtime resident.

"I could go to the liquor store and get something for supper, but I can't go to the grocery store and get anything. That's kind of sad," said Nancy Lightle, an Akron town trustee.

One reason they are so frustrated, they said, is that unlike dying rural communities, Akron, the county seat with a new school and steady population, could support a grocery store.

"We have 1,800 people here," said Brown. "We are big enough to support a grocery store if they would let us."

A few years ago, the original owner sold what is now "Bella's Market." The new owner declared bankruptcy in 2012 and has been in legal battles with the former owner since then.

Meanwhile, undercover video shows inventory has dwindled, leaving the entire town in limbo.

"It is killing this town. If this town loses its grocery store, we die," said Weninger. "When shoppers leave Akron to buy groceries, they also buy everything else out of town."

Brown said there's also been a decline in revenue from sales taxes, which hurts town services.

City and county officials have considered approaching another supplier to open a store, but said they have been waiting for the legal issues around Bella's to be resolved.

"It's going through legal channels," said David Foy, a Washington County commissioner. "The problem is people probably can't wait much longer for it to work through the legal system."

Citizens are planning an official community meeting June 30 to discuss options ranging from a cooperative food arrangement to a new store.

"I have no idea what's going on or how complicated it is," said Weninger. "I just know that we need to have some kind of grocery store or we're not going to make it."

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