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Bella's Market closing 3 stores in rural Colorado

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AKRON, Colo. (AP) — A grocery store chain that serves Colorado's agricultural communities is closing three of its eight locations, forcing residents to drive dozens of miles to go food shopping.

Bella's Market closed its stores in Akron and Wiggins Tuesday. The Walden store is set to close Thursday.

The chain's owner, Sam Mancini, told KMGH-TV (http://bit.ly/1rsURyu) that the closures are temporary and the result of ongoing litigation with the chain's landlord and previous owner to protect it leases. He said the employees at the closed stores will be paid and will also have benefits extended through the end of August.

"We are very disappointed to continue to be put on the defensive by our landlords. We have been committed to our communities and our employees," he said in the statement.

The station first reported on the chain's problems last month when undercover cameras revealed mostly empty shelves at the store in Akron.

Wiggins mayor pro tem Mary Ellen Mercer said the town, surrounded by farms and ranches that help feed the country, is exploring how to attract another place where residents can buy food but it's not clear how long that could take.

"We've been doing our best to try to help the store stay open," she said. "We need a grocery store here. It's really devastating."

Mancini bought the chain from Leroy Odell in 2006. Bankruptcy filings obtained by KMGH and The Denver Post alleged that Mancini's company, VM Odells, defaulted on loans to Odell during the first year of ownership. The company made the bankruptcy filings in 2012 after two loan modifications.

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Information from: KMGH-TV, http://www.thedenverchannel.com

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