2 Bella's Markets up for sale; negotiations ongoing for Limon, Stratton stores

Grocery chain focus of 7NEWS investigation

LIMON, Colo. - The owner of the Bella's Market grocery stores is now negotiating to sell two of his stores.

7NEWS Reporter Jaclyn Allen has been digging into the financially-plagued grocery chain after finding empty shelves in the stores that have left rural Coloradoans living in a food desert.

Melissa Brent, of Limon, said she can't find much to buy at the Bella's Market near her -- the only grocery store in town.

"(It's) very, very empty. Hardly anything in dairy. Hardly anything in produce," she said.

Brent said she has to drive an hour or so out of her way to get fresh groceries.

However, that may change soon.

Lincoln County Economic Development Director Lisa Nolder, said the current owner of Bella's Market, Sam Mancini, made a promise last month.

"Mr. Mancini promised the store would be stocked to 100 percent. We are four days from that deadline," Nolder said.

7NEWS shot undercover video at the store in Limon showing that shelves are still bare today.

Employees say they've been kept in the dark, but were told a new owner is taking over on Wednesday.              

That potential new owner is longtime area businessman Tony Ford.

Ford confirms he is considering buying the Limon and Stratton Bella's Markets, but the deal isn't done.

He owns a grocery store in Flagler, about 35 miles away.

"It's always really stocked and full and if that's what is going to happen here, then I'm excited. It will be good for the community," said Brent.

Mancini has a long history of legal and financial woes, including a 2012 bankruptcy.

He owns eight Bella's Markets around the state, where empty shelves have left many driving up to 120-mile trips for fresh food.

Mancini did not respond to questions about selling two of the stores, but in an email again blamed his landlord.

Since 7NEWS started investigating last month, Mancini has closed three stores.

"There are a lot of good people here that just want to have a safe, reliable healthy food supply," Nolder said.

Mancini told 7NEWS in an email that the Limon store will not be closing Tuesday night. However, county officials say they were told if the store is sold, it may close briefly for re-stocking.

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