YMCA honors Tops owners at ‘Forever in Blue Jeans’

Tops Marketplace co-owners Betsy Tooker, left, and John Salerno the Compass Award, presented by Paul Bedard, vice president of the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA board of directors. (Photos by Janelle Morelli)

SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

The Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA’s 17th annual Forever in Blue Jeans event went off without a hitch on Friday, Nov. 15, gathering about 750 people for a night of food, fundraising and festivities at the Aqua Turf Club.

Each year, the event celebrates one person or group’s “moral compass” by honoring them with the Compass Award.

This year’s event was uniquely special as Tops Marketplace owners John Salerno and Betsy Tooker were honored with the 2019 Compass Award. Earlier this year, Tops Marketplace suffered a horrendous fire and burnt down to the ground. A place that was always there for its community, residents were at a loss when the business succumbed.

A candlelight vigil was held for Tops the next night. Word of the fire made headlines that week in media throughout the state. The community truly mourned the loss of Tops Marketplace, and came to the aid of Salerno and Tooker.

“Tonight, we celebrate one of the most giving, generous businesses in the town of Southington—Tops Marketplace,” said SCCYMCA CEO Mark Pooler. “They are a true testament to the impact of community service.”

Tops Marketplace has supported nearly every community group and organization in town for almost 40 years, including Bread for Life, the Southington Community Services, school and church fundraisers, sports teams and beyond.

Salerno said he and his family are no stranger to tragedy, and when Tops Marketplace burned down, he wondered how, and if, he would start again.

From left, YMCA CEO Mark Pooler with Compass Award winners Betsy Tooker and John Salerno; along with Paul Bedard, vice president of the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA board of directors. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

“But, nothing could prepare me for the support and outreach from the community,” Salerno said. He explained that he and Tooker reluctantly started a fundraiser to rebuild the market, but planned to give any surplus back to the community to thank residents for their ongoing support.

Salerno and Tooker recalled many years of memories at Tops.

“Thank goodness I chose a job I loved for the last 50 years,” said Tooker. She said that after the fire, it “was not just a loss of business. People cared about our store, and beyond that, they cared about us, and about me as a person.”

Tops Marketplace has been a community institution for 68 years, with the last 38 years under the leadership of Salerno and Tooker. Because of community support, Tops Marketplace plans to reopen in February 2020.

Forever in Blue Jeans raises money each year that goes back to the community, helping those in need with financial assistance for child care, day camp and memberships at the YMCA as well as helping to support valuable programs like the YMCA Outreach program, Livestrong at the YMCA, teen programs, and more. It is the SCCYMCA’s largest fundraising event of the year.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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