SOUTHINGTON – Town leaders offered an outpouring of sympathy, sadness and memories after Tops Marketplace burned Sunday night.
The blaze consumed the long-standing market at 887 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike, Plantsville, as heavy snow fell.
According to topsmarketplace.com, Tops was founded in 1951 by the Topshe family. The local store was purchased in 1980 by John Salerno, who doubled its size over 30 years and added a bakery and rewards program as well as in-store catering.
Betsy Tooker is the store manager.
The following message was left on Tops Marketplace’s Facebook page Monday:
“Everyone made it out safely. No one was injured. Our family is devastated. This has been a family business for over 30 years. It is as if we lost a member of our family. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire and at some point fencing will be placed around the property for safety reasons.”
State Sen. Rob Sampson, who represents Southington, called the fire “devastating to the community.”
“Tops was a staple of Southington and that neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen next, but I hope it’s not the end of Tops. I extend my sincere sympathy to the owners and the people who work there.”
State Rep. John Fusco said he was “deeply upset” to learn about the fire.
“My first thoughts were ‘Is everyone OK? Did everyone get out safely?’,” he said. “I am a Plantsville native and grew up not only right down the street, but in and around that store. The owners, Betsy and John, are lifelong friends of mine, and they are truly wonderful people as well as tremendous supporters of the community, whether it be through their individual efforts, generous donations, or allowing the use of their storefront by the many groups and entities that rely on the community for support. Betsy and John have been there for me when I truly needed them, I intend to return the favor, and I am certain that anyone who knows them will do the same. Plantsville suffered a tremendous loss last night, both historically and functionally, but buildings and businesses can be replaced, lives cannot, and all that matters is that our friends and family at Top’s Market are safe and sound.”
Lisa Jansson, president of the Southington Historical Society, said a piece of Southington’s history is now gone.
“It’s sad to see a part of our community history gone,” she said. “People will be saying ‘Remember the night Tops burned down?’ for a long time. Everyone seems to remember going there as a kid.”
Mark Pooler, CEO of the Southington Community YMCA, said that he, like many members of the community, is heartbroken. The YMCA will do whatever it can to help the Salerno family.
“My family and I were maybe the fourth of fifth on the scene,” said Pooler. “We were coming back from a family party and we saw the start of the fire. We stuck around to make sure that 911 had been called. Tops is one of the most giving businesses in town. John and Betsy operated their businesses with their hearts first. They have given so much to the Y and hundreds of other organizations. At the YMCA we are happy to support them in any manner we can. We’re so grateful to have them in town.”
Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said Southington is a very giving community and “one would be hard-pressed to find people more giving than John and Betsy.”
“They’ve supported Relay for Life, and struggling families – I don’t think that there’s any good cause in town they haven’t supported,” said Goralski. “I hope that the community can now support them in any way that they need us. I could never thank them enough for all the little things they did for various organizations I’ve been a part of.”
Town Council member Dawn Miceli said the news of the fire was “devastating.”
“The entire family is so well known in the community; they are beyond generous to so many community organizations – often without acknowledgement,” she said. “It’s just so unfortunate and tragic. At our next meeting, Council Chairman Chris Palmieri will be reading a report from our Fire Department with the full details. There are a lot of people looking for information so they can do whatever needs to be done to get Tops rebuilt.”
Palmieri said that he was “really sorry” to hear about the fire. He said that Tops had been an asset to the community and thanked the Salernos for many years of giving back to the community.
“They were such a vital part of the community and we stand behind them in this difficult time,” said Palmieri, who also thanked the Fire Department for “going above and beyond” and “doing an extraordinary job.”
Councilor Victoria Triano said the fire was “tragic” and “such a shame.”
“I couldn’t believe it, Tops has been with us for so many years,” she said. “John and Betsy were so generous to the community. You could always count on them. Rotary Club did food drives outside of Tops every year. My prayers are with them. I’m just glad everyone got out OK. I will miss the store and its staff; they were a community staple.”
Councilor Mike Riccio said that it broke his heart when he saw footage of the fire.
“John and Betsy are two people who would do absolutely anything for anyone,” he said. “Why God chose to pick on them is beyond me.”
Councilor Tom Lombardi said the destruction of Tops Market is a “huge loss” for the town.
“Tops has been an amazing contributor to so many things,” he said. “I’m glad that no one got hurt, which is most important. The Tops family is very strong and I know they will rebound.”
Councilor William Dziedzic said the fire is a “horrible, tragic loss for the community.” He too praised John and Betsy Salerno for being “very active” in the community.
According to topsmarketplace.com, the grocery store supported 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.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.