SOUTHINGTON - Town leaders offered an outpouring of sympathy, sadness and memories after Tops Marketplace burned to the ground in a Sunday night fire.
The blaze consumed the market at 887 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike amid the snowstorm. 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 the size of the business over 30 years and added a bakery and rewards program as well as an in-store catering program.
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, said that the fire was “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 okay? 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 the town’s history was 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 by what happened.
“My family and I were maybe the fourth or 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.”
Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said that Southington is a very giving community and even still “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.”
Town Council member Dawn Miceli said that 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. “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 John and Betsy Salerno 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 Southington Fire Department for “going above and beyond” and “doing an extraordinary job.”
Councilor Mike Riccio said that it broke his heart when he saw the 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 that 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.”
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.