SOUTHINGTON — Demolition began Wednesday morning on the remains of Tops Market, the first step in an effort to rebuild the business destroyed by a fire in March.
Grocery store owner John Salerno said Southington Catholic School and the Aqua Turf Club have allowed him to use their kitchens to restart the catering portion of his business. That’s helped him get back to work and retain customers.
“They’re gratefully giving us the business back,” Salerno said. “We’ve been taking jobs as we go along … We’re not big in that area, but whatever comes in is really important.”
A fire in the back of the building quickly destroyed the Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike grocery store and its contents on March 3. Demolition of the remains was delayed due to concerns about asbestos, but Salerno said little was found.
Salerno said he’s committed to rebuilding, but estimates there’s a $500,000 gap between the cost of restarting the business and the insurance payout. He’ll also have to hire an architect to design a new building before he’s sure he has enough money to construct it. Designs and site preparation could cost a few hundred thousand dollars.
“We won’t know what it’ll cost until we have an architect build it on paper,” Salerno said.
Residents and community groups have raised funds for the independent grocery store as well as its employees. Kennedy Middle School held a fundraiser and collected gift cards for employees who are out of work. Southington Catholic School raised $600 Tuesday night during a Zumba fundraiser for the rebuilding effort.
Mary Alexander, the school’s advancement director, said many of the school’s families shop at Tops. Store owners Salerno and Betsy Tooker had been very generous to the school and other non-profit groups.
“When we had events, they were the first ones to step up with refreshments,” she said. “This is our small way of paying them back.”
The Rev. Joseph Cronin, St. Thomas Church pastor, suggested also letting Tops use the school’s kitchen. Tooker, Salerno and some Tops workers are now preparing school lunches every day, as well.
In between catering jobs, Salerno said he drives for Uber.
His family has been helping him manage the demolition and other aspects of getting Tops running again.
“In my heart I know I’m committed,” Salerno said. “We’re all working to make this happen. I just hope we can do it.”