The community in Southington and beyond is still reeling after a popular local grocery store went up in flames.
Tops Marketplace was known for carrying locally made products. They did business with 65 Connecticut companies. Now, those food suppliers are feeling the impact of the March 3 fire that gutted the store.
“Tops was one of my first stores,” said Shannon Ziomek, owner of Holy Pierogies.
Ziomek started Holy Pierogies in her Wolcott home seven years ago, as a way to bring in money while staying home with her autistic son.
“It’s a wonderful thing. It’s giving me a living,” she said.
So, she was heartbroken when she saw Tops Marketplace go up in flames Sunday.
“You couldn’t help but be glued to the news and say how is this happening,” Ziomek added.
Tops was one of her biggest customers.
“Right off the top, I’m losing 10 percent of my business,” she said. “I don’t think anyone realizes how many people they employ. It’s not just their employees. They’re giving me an income, and I’m a tiny little company, but they’re also employing so many people across the state.”
From Wolcott to Wethersfield and Hamden to Hanover, Tops carried Connecticut-made products. Items like honey and soap, pasta and cheese, all from mom and pop shops, were sold on the store’s shelves.
“We had everybody in here that was local. We bought as much local as we could,” said Tops Marketplace Owner John Salerno.
That philosophy gave Hamden baker Bruno Castaldi shelf space for his stuffed breads at the Southington store.
“We depend on small places like that. That’s the backbone of our business,” explained Castaldi, who owns Venice Bakery. “When I was first told I was devastated.”
Salerno said that investigators think that the fire ignited after gas leaked from an oven pipe. As he waits to get the green light to begin demolition, Castaldi is hopeful he this grocer isn’t gone for good.
“Those are the people that you really like to do business with,” said Castaldi.
Salerno says he will try to rebuild, but it could take a year.
“We’re moving as quickly as we can,” he said after meeting with his insurance company on Wednesday.
Right now, he’s waiting to get the green light to demolish the building.
The flames that swept through Tops not only gutted the store, they also left a huge hole in the community.
“It was really a great blessing for them to help us, it makes me a little emotional,” said Bread for Life Director Missy Cipriano.
The Bread for Life soup kitchen depends on donations. One of their primary partners was Tops Marketplace. Their donations of deli meat have supplied sandwiches for 2,000 school children during the summer. Tops also provided food for the charity’s Meals on Wheels program.
“They just supplied every need. There’s not an area in town that Tops Market did not help,” explained Cipriano.
Their role in the community has not gone unnoticed. Many people have been sending well wishes to Salerno.
“My phone never stops ringing. The emails never stop coming,” said Salerno.
Tops employed 32 people - about half were teenagers.
“We call this the University of Tops,” said Salerno.
For the Plantsville section of Southington, Tops was the place to shop for generation after generation. It was established in 1951 but Salerno bought it in 1979.
“It’s a staple in our community. They’re kind people, they’re good to us, and on that side of town there is no other grocery store, “ said Taylor Crofton, Southington Chamber of Commerce executive director who shopped there with her family growing up.
Whether raising money for the local baseball or soccer team, a sick child, or a charity, the community has come to know this locally owned grocery store as more than just a place to buy bread and milk. To many the Salernos are like family.
“They’d just step in and do a fundraiser. They’d just give out of their hearts to anyone that asked that are in this community. That’s just who they are. We are thankful to have a business like that here,” said Cipriano.