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Wyoming Town Loses Food Mart ... And A Bit Of Hope

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For years, the town of Hanna, Wyo., only had one grocery store. Late last month, that store closed its doors. It was one more casualty of the bad economy, and it's a blow to a town where jobs are scarce and a snowstorm can close roads for days at a time.

A few days before his store shut down, Andy Jones surveyed the aisles at the Hanna Food Mart. He'd stocked and swept and managed the place for a decade, but now the store was emptying out.

"There's not much left on the shelves right now," he said. "Our frozen is pretty well gone."

The last days had become a kind of grim countdown, ever since Andy and his wife Sandy gave their sales and expenses a hard look and decided they could no longer sell groceries. Andy says the tipping point came quickly, as soon as the bad national economy started affecting local jobs.

"Maybe the last half of the last year is when it really started dropping off," he said. "Every time a town loses one business, it's more reason for people to go out of town, so it hurts the rest of the businesses."

The business that hurt the Food Mart was the gift shop across the parking lot. It closed sometime over the summer. By closing his doors, Andy is likely to hurt a local bar and restaurant called Dingy Dan's. Lois Buchanan owns it with her husband.

"We're to the point we want to put our house on the market and leave," Buchanan says. "It's just — it's not fun living here anymore."

With the Hanna Food Mart gone, there will be nowhere in town to buy bread or milk. There's not even a regular gas station in Hanna — just a couple of credit-card-only gas pumps. A simple mini-mart is 20 miles away. The nearest grocery store is an 80-mile drive, round-trip, but a lot of people in Hanna can't get around that easily.

"It's bad," says 82-year-old June Webster. "I walk to the store maybe two to three times a day."

Webster's husband is in poor health. For them, losing the store doesn't only mean they'll need help to get groceries. It also means more isolation. It's a thought that brings June Webster to tears.

The town hasn't been well-off since the 1970s when the coal mines were going strong. More and more, it seems like there's not much reason to have a town where Hanna sits, out on Wyoming's windswept plains. Still, there are families that have been here for generations. A lot of people retired to Hanna after mining dropped off and houses got cheap. All together, 800 people call this town home.

Cashier Lorinde Schisel planned to take a break from work once the Food Mart closed, but didn't expect to rest for long. "I'm going to have to look for something else. My husband's disabled and we can't live on his Social Security, we can't," she said.

As for losing the grocery store, she said she'd start baking at home, the way she used to.

"I made bread yesterday," she said. "And two-dozen tortillas. Yeah, we're all going to have to get back to basics."



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