Page 34 - Southington Magazine Issue 46 Autumn 2021
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        by Janalynne Salerno Gius
Tops Marketplace Celebrates
70 YEARS
no and Tooker have been steadfast in their dedication to give to the community. They have taken great pride in aiding multiple organizations over the years such as Relay for Life, Franciscan Life Center, YMCA, Bread for Life, Southington Community Ser- vices, Rotary Club, and the Calvanese Foundation.
Perhaps their most rewarding charitable experience came from hosting the annual Tops KidsFest event which raised more than $50,000 over the years for multiple organizations. Not only did these events provide family friendly entertainment, but the funds supported several projects including Rotary’s Waterfront Project at Camp Sloper, the playscape at Panthorn Park, the Southington Salvation Army and Covenant to Care for Children.
Salerno and Tooker have received many accolades over the years for their commitment and generosity to the community. Tooker was one of twenty women recognized by Leading La- dies in 2019. That same year, they received The Compass Award from the Southington YMCA. In 2007, they served as Grand Mar- shals for the 38th Apple Harvest Parade and in 2006 the UNICO Gold Medal of Honor. Salerno was named Rotarian of the Year in 2005. And in 2000, both were awarded the Riccio Brothers Business Person of the Year Award.
 Small businesses have been through unprecedented challenges over the past 18+ months due to COVID with so many being forced to temporarily or permanently shut their doors. This month, Tops Marketplace is feeling blessed to celebrate their 70th anniversary. Tops could not have imagined achieving this milestone two and half years ago when a fire completely devastated the business in March of 2019. In fact, nothing could have prepared John Salerno and Betsy Tooker for the turbulent ride they were about to embark on.
Salerno and Tooker met at Tops Marketplace in the mid- 70s. Salerno frequented the store where Tooker worked to buy supplies for his Mister Softie ice cream truck business which he operated on the side. An entrepreneur at heart, Salerno found himself at a crossroad in his career as a cost accountant. While purchasing a gallon a milk one day, Doug Topshe, the founder of Tops, jokingly asked, “Know anyone interested in buying a su- permarket?” Salerno went home and approached his next-door neighbor and second cousin, the late Jack Kastner, about the idea. In 1979, the two partners purchased Tops from The Topshe family.
Both counted on Tooker to show them the ropes of the gro- cery business. “Betsy was an invaluable resource from day one. It was a true partnership because we knew she had our back. She was a problem solver and worked tirelessly alongside us to grow the business. All these years later, she’s still an incredible partner.” said Salerno.
Tops Marketplace is a member of the Independent Gro- cers Alliance. IGA was founded in 1926 to bring family owned, local grocery stores together, while at the same time, allowing them to stay true to their roots as a hometown store serving the unique needs of their communities. IGA is a global organiza- tion and includes nearly 6,000 supermarkets in more than 30 countries.
Each year, IGA bestows the International Retailer of the Year Award on an elite group of IGA retailers who are consid- ered to be delivering a superior shopping experience to their customers. In 2003, Tooker became the first woman to receive the award and proudly shared the spotlight with six other win- ners from the U.S., South Africa, and Australia.
Being a Good Neighbor
“The nature of the grocery business lends itself well to help- ing people and organizations.” said Salerno. Indeed, both Saler-
Betsy Tooker and John Salerno
      End of An Era
Salerno and Tooker have also experienced their share heart break and challenges over the years. Kastner passed away suddenly in 1991 and Salerno lost his wife Nancylee to a drunk driver in 2012.
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