Page 35 - Southington Magazine Issue 46 Autumn 2021
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     On March 3, 2019 they experienced yet another devastat- ing blow. At approximately 7:30 PM, flames were spotted on the left side of the store by a customer exiting the building. He immediately ran back in to inform employees. Tooker called 911 and made sure that everyone made it out safely. She then called Salerno who was having Sunday night dinner with his kids and grandkids. When Salerno first arrived, the fire was small and contained.
Employees and even customers gathered at the McDon- ald’s parking lot across the street as emergency crews arrived. Several neighbors and witnesses saw purple flames and heard small explosions coming from the building. Tops had just pur- chased a pallet of Duraflame logs, a popular seasonal item, ear- lier in the week. “There was a large fan hanging from the ceiling right above the pallet which likely contributed to spreading the embers across the ceiling of the store, catching the roof on fire.” said Salerno.
The fire spread rapidly and by around 3 a.m. there was nothing more than a skeleton of a business that began in 1951. The roof had completely collapsed and everything had burned. The Salerno family, Tooker, and many employees were devasted. After an investigation, which determined that the fire started in the kitchen, Salerno’s son-in-law took on the task of organiz- ing the demolition knowing it would be difficult for Salerno and Tooker to do.
The Salerno Family and Tooker grieved as customers reached out on facebook, via e-mail and phone to share their memories of Tops. “A candle light vigil was even organized by Marcia Phelps. It was overwhelming at times. We cried for weeks over the loss.” said Salerno.
“Everyone wanted to know if we were going to rebuild, but after 40 years, it’s so hard to think about starting over. Even if we decide to rebuild, there is the possibility that we may not have the funds.” said Salerno in multiple interviews in the days and weeks following the fire.
Salerno’s daughter, Janalynne Salerno Gius, took the lead in working with the insurance company. The challenge of dealing with such a loss, at the same time attempting to put a dollar val- ue on the entire contents of a supermarket, was a daunting task.
Salerno and Tooker began meeting with Bozzuto’s engi- neer, Dave Falt, to interview local builders and work on a budget. Given the increased cost of new construction and the amount they were counting on from the insurance company, they quickly concluded that there would be a shortfall of $500,000. Salerno picked up a job as an Uber driver which offered a much needed distraction and enabled him to earn additional money. Tops was able to maintain their catering business through the generous use of commercial kitchen space which also brought in much needed revenue.
In the wake of the fire, the Southington community rallied! Kennedy Middle School collected food gift cards for Tops em- ployees who had lost their jobs and local businesses offered to hire displaced employees. Plantsville’s Soul Space Yoga & Well- ness and Southington Catholic School organized a yoga and zumba class and proceeds were donated to Tops. The Arts at Angeloria’s held a theater performance to raise funds for the rebuild.
So many people came forward and asked how they could contribute to rebuilding Tops, that they reluctantly established the Tops Marketplace Community Rebuild Fund with a commit- ment to donate 100% of the money back to the community. “We knew we didn’t have a lot of time and that we had to make a decision. The community’s support gave us the energy and drive to move forward with the rebuild.” said Salerno.
Thankfully, local companies and groups also came forward and contributed their time and talent once the rebuild was un- derway including South End Concrete and Construction, mem- bers of Mary Our Queen Church, Comparone Lawn Care, Ali’s Nursery, AJ Waste, Maximum Security, Southington Security and Sign Pro.
Even during the rebuild, Tops didn’t stop giving. Salerno and Tooker were concerned for the organizations that they had sup- ported over the years, and so as not to disappoint, Tops contin- ued to donate meals and gift baskets.
A New Beginning
After a long year, Tops Marketplace reopened in March 2020. Plans for a grand opening celebration faded with the im-

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