Tops Marketplace owners to be honored at Forever in Blue Jeans on Nov. 15

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The YMCA will present the 2019 Compass Award to Tops Marketplace co-owners John Salerno, left, and Betsy Tooker, right.

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA is busy preparing for the 17th annual Forever in Blue Jeans Gala, to be held on Friday, Nov. 15, where Betsy Tooker and John Salerno of Tops Marketplace will be awarded the 2019 Compass Award.

Mark Pooler, YMCA CEO, explained that Forever in Blue Jeans is a dress-down type gala held at the Aqua Turf where guests are allowed and encouraged to wear—you guessed it—blue jeans. Each year the YMCA hopes to raise $350,000 at the annual event for their annual support campaign. The funds then go back to the community as “assistance with struggling families in childcare, for camp scholarships, for families that need assistance with membership opportunities,” amongst other efforts.

During the Margaritaville-themed gala, the community YMCA will award the coveted Compass Award which is presented annually to a group, individual, or organization that serves as a moral compass to the community, explained Sarah Pelletier, YMCA director of community development.

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“This was a pretty easy choice. We have witnessed their generosity firsthand through many, many years, as well as the rest of the community that they have been so generous to,” said Pooler. “Their entire business – soul – burnt down to the ground. They could have closed up shop and moved out of town, but they didn’t. They chose to rebuild, and even during that whole time, they continued to operate their business with the same sort of generosity, the same sort of heart, the same sort of giving and they were equally as generous over the last year – that sort of thing is just inspirational.”

According to Tops’ co-owners, John Salerno and Betsy Tooker, the market was originally built in 1951 by the Topshe family. Salerno purchased the business in 1979, and Tooker joined not long after.

A few weeks ago, Salerno and Tooker received the call that they would be presented the Compass Award, and Tooker described the moment as “overwhelming and undeserving,” to which Kathy Reinhard of the Calvanese Foundation said, “It most certainly is deserved.”

Sitting around the table with the owners, Pooler, Pelletier, and Reinhard, several stories of Salerno and Tooker’s generosity came up; as did the memory of the fire that toppled Tops Marketplace. Pooler recalled how the last time Tops received an award from the YMCA was in 2001, when they were presented with the Reaching Out Award, and the CEO said that the duo has always operated their business from the heart.

Tops Marketplace owners Betsy Tooker, left, and John Salerno, right, talk to reporters at a vigil held after the fire that consumed the store. Tops Marketplace is scheduled to re-open in February 2000.

“You know, no matter – and I feel it even now – no matter how many times people come to me I just get choked up, because I don’t remember, you know? You just do it and move on,” said Salerno.

Past winners of the Compass Award include the Myers Family (2018), Garry Brumback (2017), American Veterans (2015), Walter Hushak (2014), Mike and Teresa Soltys (2013), Joe and Delores LaPorte (2012), Bill McDougall (2011), the Urillo Family (2010), the Skarvinko Family (2009), the Calvanese Family (2008), the Meade Family (2007), Dennis Stanek and Gail DePaolo (2006), and the Riccio Family (2005).

Tops Marketplace is currently under construction, and is slated to re-open in February 2020.

Tickets to the 2019 Forever in Blue Jeans Margaritaville Gala are currently on sale. Those who are interested in learning more about the event and the Southington-Cheshire YMCA annual support campaign are directed to visit the organization website, www.sccymca.org. Those with questions regarding the event should contact Pelletier by email, spelletier@sccymca.org, or by telephone, (860) 426-9510.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@PlainvilleObserver.com.