SOUTHINGTON -Becoming an Uber driver and working at his catering business are keeping John Salerno busy during the process of rebuilding Tops Marketplace.
Salerno said the total cost of the new building will be $3.8 million if the design he wants for it is used, but he still needs half a million dollars to reach that goal.
He is hoping ground will be broken on the reconstruction project in August and that work will be completed by February 2020.
A fire left Tops Marketplace a total loss in March.
“It was pretty devastating,” Salerno said. “I saw a small fire on the side of the building, figuring the fire department would come and put it out, and then it grew. When the roof caught, it was just ... I could not believe my eyes. It took them all night to put it out. Nothing was saved. That lot is just an empty lot now. The whole thing, what was left of it, had to be demolished.”
According to Salerno, who owns the business along with Betsy Tooker, they were driven to rebuild from day one.
“We had a lot of setbacks. The biggest one was that we didn’t have enough money to do it,” Salerno said. “There wasn’t enough insurance money, so we’re closing the gap. We are all working hard catering, and I’m driving Uber to make a living right now.”
The footprint of the new building is going to be the same, Salerno said. But he wants the new Tops Marketplace to look more upscale.
“It’s going to be a lot nicer-looking store, inside and out,” Salerno said.
The building is going to be 15,800 square feet.
The goal is for Tops to continue to be a full-service supermarket offering produce, meat, deli and bakery goods.
“But our uniqueness was the food that we prepared,” Salerno said. “It was good food. The catering division of Tops Marketplace, Carmela Marie Catering, it was rated in Connecticut’s Best as one of the top 13 caterers in the state. That quality of food is the kind of quality of food we prepared in the store and it was very well received by the community.”
Tops offered hot food as well as fresh to-go meals that could be cooked in a microwave or in the oven, such as crockpot meals, Salerno said.
Salerno said he is thankful for the support he has received after the loss of his business, which he bought in 1979. Tops Marketplace was founded by the Topshe family in 1951.
“The community has been extremely supportive,” Salerno said. “As a matter of fact, they started a GoFundMe account. They donated money. We get calls and letters and thoughts and prayers from people. Every time we see people when we are catering or just around and about, [they are] hugging us and wishing us well, telling us how much they miss us. That’s a great feeling.”
Karla Santos can be reached at 860-801-5079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.