A year after fire gutted a neighborhood grocery store in Southington, it’s back open for business.
The grand opening of Tops Marketplace in Southington couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Ninety-minutes before they were set to open their doors Friday, more than a dozen people were already lined up outside.
“When we opened the door you just wanted to hug everyone,” said Betsy Tooker, co-owner of Tops Marketplace.
Thanks to the coronavirus, instead of a welcome sign shoppers were greeted with a warning to practice social distancing.
“Most people are trying to keep a safe distance. I can see people giving the right of way more regularly,” said Gary Brummett, of Southington.
“Everyone’s wearing gloves, we have sanitizers at every register, after every customer registers and ramps have to be wiped down,” Tooker pointed out.
Cart and basket handles were wiped down by a store employee at the entrance, too.
Brummet said he headed straight for: “Toilet paper, paper towels. It’s been challenging to get them.”
Less than three hours after Tops opened, the shelves in the toilet paper aisle were starting to look bare.
“It is amazing to see it fly off the shelf, refill, fly off the shelf, refill, but we have it,” said Tooker.
With so many stores struggling to keep their shelves stocked amid the coronavirus pandemic, the owners of Tops decided to open three days early.
“We’re responding to the community need right now,” said Salerno.
“It’s tremendous for the neighborhood, for the community, to have Tops back,” said Michelle Vieira, who lives just a few miles away.
Vieira said she’s been adhering to guidance about social distancing and hasn’t left her house in a while. She hoped the brand new store would be well stocked with the items she’s running out of.
“I figured it wasn’t going to be ransacked and they’ve done a great job of stocking the shelves and everything I need so far is here,” she said.
The coronavirus has certainly changed the grocery industry since the last time Tops was in business. When it burned down a year ago, Salerno and Tooker weren't sure they'd reopen. They said they can weather this storm, too.
“The challenge we were faced with really never changed. We knew we didn’t have enough but we did it anyway,” said Salerno.
“It’s very hard for us ourselves to even walk down the aisles and look around and not burst out crying,” added Tooker.
Even though they didn’t get to have the full grand opening celebration they had planned, the store’s owners say it’s not canceled, just postponed.