SOUTHINGTON –Following an outpouring of community sympathy, the owners of Tops Marketplace have created a Go Fund Me Page, aiming to raise $50,000 to rebuild their grocery store which was destroyed by a fire March 3.
The Go Fund Me page, posted March 8, has raised $1,805, donated by 24 people, so far as of around noon Tuesday.
“There are no words,” wrote owner John Salerno. “We are so grateful for the support that you have shown in the wake of our tragedy on March 3rd when Tops Marketplace was devastated by fire. After 68 years of being in business, it’s so hard to think about starting from scratch. Your support and encouragement is deeply appreciated and is providing us with the energy and drive to rebuild – despite still mourning our loss.”
Salerno said Tuesday that the fire was a “total loss.” Watching the blaze, he said, was “horrifying.”
“I watched it burn after working there for 40 years,” he said. “I was helpless to do anything.”
Tops was founded in 1951 by the Topshe family. It was purchased in 1980 by Salerno, who doubled its size over 30 years and added a bakery. They also had a rewards program and in-store catering. The store was managed by Betsy Tooker.
“I knew the Topshe family very well,” said Salerno. “Doug Topshe really took me under his wing. After I took over, we were not the kind of store that sat back on our laurels. We were going to install new registers the Monday of that week. We were very pro-active and we were one of the first stores in town to have a preferred shopper card that offered extra discounts. We had a heck of a catering business and we had a great reputation throughout town. We had just put in a hot food case a month ago and we had a sushi bar.”
Salerno said that if he is able to rebuild, he hopes to bring back all of those features and more.
After the fire, several town leaders have expressed regret that the tragedy could befall Salerno after Tops has generously donated to many community organizations including the Southington YMCA, Bread for Life, Southington Social Services, United Way of Southington, Southington Educational Foundation, Rotary Club of Southington, the Calvanese Foundation and Unico.
Mark Pooler, the CEO of the Southington Community YMCA, said that they will support Tops any way they can.
“I’ve been a member of many different organizations, like United Way and Rotary, my whole life,” Salerno said Tuesday. “I have a lot of good friends in them and I’ve served on a lot of boards. We were almost like a barber shop in the sense that people would come in, I’d be right there in front of them, and I’d hear what was going on in town.”
During Monday’s town council meeting, councilor Victoria Triano said that other community businesses, including Arby’s, McDonalds and Stop & Shop have offered jobs to Tops employees if they need something to hold them over.
Salerno said Tuesday that while his workers are collecting unemployment, he has had a lot of neighbors step up to assist him and donate food to him.
“I’m ok, but it will definitely come in handy,” he said.
Salerno wrote that he also appreciates the memories that customers have been sharing on Facebook, in emails and in conversations.
“You have been so generous in your praise of our role in the community,” he said. “You make us blush.”
Salerno said that it is the loyal support and patronage of the community that has allowed Tops the “honor and privilege” to give back.
The Go Fund Me Page was set up, reluctantly, after Salerno said many people asked him about setting up donation sites. All funds contributed will go to the Tops Marketplace Community Rebuild Fund account.
“I’m sure that most of them had good intentions, but we didn’t know for sure where all of those funds would end up, so we decided to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves,” he said.
Salerno said that, after he rebuilds, he aims to ultimately donate the funds he receives back to community non-profit organizations. These donations will come in the form of food donations, Betsy’s gift baskets for charity auctions, catering, sponsorships, food pantry donations and more.
However, while Salerno said he hopes to rebuild, and is working diligently with his insurance company, he admits that there may be a possibility that he is unsuccessful.
“After all these years of building a business, the challenge of dealing with such a heartbreaking loss, at the same time you are attempting to put a dollar value on the entire contents of a 14,000 square foot grocery store, is a daunting task,” said Salerno. “Nothing could have prepared us for this challenge. We have been advised to be patient and will do our best to move quickly and prudently forward. If we are not successful in our ability to negotiate a positive outcome, and we believe that we’ll know within the next few months, we will be transparent.”
Salerno said Tuesday that while he had insurance on the building, it won’t just be a matter of rebuilding the supermarket. There are also costs associated with replacing the freezers and equipment.
“It was probably $250,000 for just our outside compressor room,” he said.
Salerno will be meeting with designer Bozzuto’s, from Cheshire, site planner Harry Cole & Son from Plantsville and a contractor who has stepped up to offer their help.
“Seeing all of these professional people offering their help is humbling,” he said. “I’m used to being on the other side.”
Those who wish to donate by check can send it to Tops Marketplace Community Rebuild Fund c/o United Bank, 158 N. Main Street, Southington, CT 06489.
Funds received cannot be considered a tax deductible donation as we are a for-profit entity.
For more information and updates, visit facebook.com/TopsMarketplace.
The following is the link to the Go Fund Me page: gofundme.com/tops-marketplace-community-rebuild-fund?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fb_dn_cpgnsharebartop_r&fbclid=IwAR3sW-8kL8L65eI5jXPvDv5V3yZBh9PGdfTbamNr7St_ro-XW-XjhDlkI
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.