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Fresh Food Fund Retains Rural Grocery Stores

Limited access to healthy food affects both urban and rural communities. In Colorado’s smaller communities, where there is often only a single store, the pangs of a grocery closure can be particularly acute – impacting the community’s identity, resiliency, and economic prosperity.

As planners, we understand that access to fresh and healthy foods is a key component of healthy, thriving communities. Planning efforts are increasingly focused on creating and sustaining healthy communities, with a particular emphasis on retail access to fresh food. Still, approximately 1 in 4 Coloradans live in a “food desert” – an area that is considered underserved by healthy food retailers.

The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F) was established in 2013 to help increase access to healthy foods by providing favorable financing for grocers and other healthy food retailers.

Since its inception, CO4F has funded over a dozen projects in both urban and rural locations throughout the state. According to a recent third-party evaluation of the program, 89 percent of customers surveyed who shopped at CO4F-supported stores said since CO4F’s investment, they feel have better access to healthy food. The three examples below illustrate the positive impacts achieved by keeping grocery stores open in rural Colorado communities.

Nucla, CO. The sole store in this small Western Slope town was in dire need of renovations to keep its doors open. Redd’s Mercantile received financing from CO4F to make the renovations, which included ceiling and floor repairs and new energy efficient refrigeration equipment. According to a store representative, since the renovations, energy costs have dropped by $1,000 per month and sales have increased 10 percent. The store has seen an uptick in customers, who are pleased with the new appearance and increased product selection.

Limon, CO. In 2014, the Town of Limon’s only grocery store was teetering on the brink of closure. The near-empty shelves signaled its distress. When new owners stepped in to purchase and preserve the store, they approached CO4F, among other funders, for assistance. The subsequent upgrades increased product selection, reduced energy costs, and allowed the store to continue to offer competitive pricing to shoppers. According to Limon’s Mayor, Limon Stop & Shop Supermarket “created a first class grocery store that continues to expand its options and respond to local citizens' needs”.

Ignacio, CO. When Ignacio’s only grocery store closed in 2014, two local families sought support from CO4F to help finance the construction of a brand-new store in its place. The new 22,000 square foot Farmers Fresh Market received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. The store supports more than 40 jobs, a greater product selection, and is a source of pride for the community. Locals report that the store is having a positive impact by retaining local spending at other nearby businesses.

While CO4F is making progress to reduce food deserts in Colorado, the need to add and retain healthy food retail remains. CO4F will continue to partner with public, private, and nonprofit organizations to implement food access solutions and spread the word about the Fund.

CO4F financing uses can include business start-up and expansion costs, opening a new store, keeping a store open under new ownership, equipment upgrades, and innovative food retail concepts. Loans of up to $1.5 million are available as well as limited grants.

A diverse set of partners, funding, and beneficiaries comprise the CO4F. Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) serves as the fund administrator and manages the allocation of grants and loans. Funding is provided by the Colorado Health Foundation, Piton Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and The Colorado Trust. Other partners include the Fund’s Food Access Organization, Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.), and finance partner, Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF).

If you are interested in learning more about CO4F, please contact Erin Lyng at CO4F@pumaworldhq.com, 720-519-0535; Tim Dolan at tdolan@chfainfo.com, 303.297.7318 or visit www.chfainfo.com/co4f.
 

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