SOUTHINGTON — Just over a year after a fire destroyed the store, Tops Marketplace is back and open for business today.
“It’s been crazy busy,” said owner John Salerno around 11:30 a.m. “Just incredible. We can’t stop virtually hugging this morning.”
The family-owned grocery store, 887 Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike, has spent the last year in rebuild mode after a March 3 fire destroyed the building. Salerno said they had planned to reopen Monday, but felt like they were ready to do it a little earlier.
Salerno said there were about 20 people lined up outside about an hour before the 8 a.m. opening. Senior citizens and first responders were allowed in first. Other customers could start shopping around 9 a.m.
“The registers are constantly going, which is really amazing,” he said.
Salerno said it’s been an incredible experience, seeing friends come out to support the business.
Because the store is opening amid the coronavirus pandemic, staff is using caution, Salerno said.
He said barriers were built around the cash registers to keep employees and customers safely distanced, an employee is posted at the entrance to disinfect carriages, and customers are asked to practice social distancing.
“We’re doing our best to do our part, to keep things safe for people,” Salerno said.
Although the store is stocked up, Salerno said staff is still adding products and with help from customers, working to remember the 28,000 items they usually had before the fire. The salad bar and hot food stations are not up and running yet due to coronavirus.
Salerno said it feels really good to be open again, especially since the last two months have been “intense.” For the last two weeks, about 40 people were in the store daily to stock all the shelves.
From the outside, Tops should look familiar to returning customers as the owners purposefully wanted to keep it the same. However, the look and layout inside will be a surprise. Salerno said space was able to be more efficiently utilized in the new design.
A drive-up window was added to the store, but online ordering and pickups are still a few months out, Salerno said.
Economic Development Director Louis Perillo said the town’s land use division, fire inspection and building department officials and inspectors “worked diligently to ensure safety compliance with a temporary certificate of occupancy, with the intention of enabling Top’s Market to provide their essential service to our community.”
“We offer our congratulations to Betty, John and their co-workers and family for their accomplishment in reopening,” he said. “We wish them great success and thank them for rebuilding and opening their beautiful brand new store.”
The store will be open for seniors and first responders only from 8 to 9 a.m. for the foreseeable future.
Current hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, but Salerno hopes to expand.