SOUTHINGTON — After losing his store to a fire, Tops Market owner John Salerno got the offer of a payout from his insurance company, less than half the cost of rebuilding.
He considered it, but said he’d like to leave more to his children.
“I don’t want to go out this way,” Salerno said. “We definitely want to come back.”
Salerno and Betsy Tooker, co-owners of Tops Market, are working with Nationwide Commercial to determine what it will cost to rebuild the landmark grocery store, whether the insurance company will cover construction and how long it will take.
Demolition of the gutted store could take place in two weeks and cost about $50,000, as long as asbestos isn’t found in the ruins.
“That’s the only number I know for sure,” Salerno said.
He’s already chosen an architect, engineer and builder, but isn’t sure yet how much he’ll get from Nationwide to rebuild.
“Insurance is tricky. You’ve got so much for this and so much for that. It gets complicated,” Salerno said. “They’re not going to fund necessarily what we want. They’re going to fund what we had.”
Insurance representatives said it could take eight months to get up and running again, although Salerno believes that’s a best-case scenario. If the store doesn’t reopen soon, he’s worried people will start frequenting other grocery stores and not return to the Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike location.
During a major remodeling and expansion project in 1997, the store never closed.
Jeffrey Pooler, the town’s assistant building inspector, said he’s declared the building not safe for the public. He said the insurance company quickly put up chain-link fencing to keep people away from what remains of the store.
There’s no timeline for tearing down the building but Pooler said the owners are “right on top of it.”
“We’re not rushing him at this point. The site is secure,” Pooler said.
The cause of the Sunday night fire hasn’t been determined, but authorities said the blaze started in the area of double stack pizza ovens in the back of the market.
Salerno estimated about $1 million in product was destroyed in what he described as “total devastation.”
“You might as well have put a bomb in there,” he said.
Salerno expects that getting insurance reimbursement for the full value of the store’s contents to be “a pull and tug.”
His hopes for reopening Tops have ebbed and flowed as news came in over the past few days.
“I was so confident, we have insurance. And then we start talking about what this is going to cost. I’m a little worried,” Salerno said. “I don’t know. I think we’re OK. I’m thinking positive.”