For many in Southeast Colorado Springs — long the most under-invested region of the city — the closure of the local King Soopers grocery store nearly a month ago due to asbestos means about a 20-minute drive to reach another market.
That’s for those who have access to a vehicle. Patience Kabwasa, the executive director of Food to Power, a local nonprofit focused on food security issues, noted that’s not a given for many in the Southeast.
"These are the areas that people have more challenges like low vehicle access, higher rates of public assistance, [especially] predominantly bipoc or more ethnically diverse communities," Kabwasa said.
A few dozen people gathered in nearby Panorama Park Thursday evening to discuss the grocery closure and its impact on a community already considered a food desert by many.
“It’s every kind of desert that you can imagine,” said Colorado Springs city councilwoman Yolanda Avila, who represents the area. “It wasn’t until lately that the city started to see how much we did not invest and how important it is.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the store was closed on June 20 after asbestos was found in the flooring of the building. Kroger, the grocery conglomerate that owns King Soopers, has said it plans to address the issue and re-open the store, though it has not given a timeline.
In the meantime, the company said it’s offering free grocery delivery for those in the affected area, redeemable through a digital coupon. Several people at the Thursday meeting said they had not been able to access that free delivery offer.
Shanna Simkins said she did recently drive to a store on the westside of the city to stock up on groceries for the month.
“But…what I can’t get is strawberries through the month, blueberries, you know? A piece of bacon for a recipe,” she said.
Attendees at the Thursday meeting expressed worry that Kroger does not own the building and that the same property developer closed down another grocery location in the Southeast.
Food to Power posted placards in the Panorama Park grass listing ideas for how to help the Southeast maintain access to fresh food. Those present placed stickers next to those they liked, such as “Transportation Options to Other Stores,” “Farmers’ Markets” and “Free Mobile Markets.” The organization said it’s gathering the feedback to help ramp up efforts during the King Soopers renovation.
Woody Longmire, 70, said he has lived in Southeast Colorado Springs for four decades. He said many in the area know the workers at the local King Soopers by name. He urged his neighbors not to lay blame on those employees.
"I just want us to avoid attacking them. This was something that just happened,” Longmire said. “Our focus should be on finding out how soon do they think that they can rectify that problem."
With the store’s closure, residents can look to another King Soopers 5 miles to the west or a Safeway store 2 miles to the northeast.
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