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Tops proves to be Buffalo Strong as it reopens on Jefferson Avenue

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 As Tops prepared to reopen its newly redesigned Jefferson Avenue store, civic leaders gathered to remind all that they remain “Buffalo Strong.” Tops welcomed various leaders from the Buffalo community on July 14, the day before the East Side supermarket reopened, to affirm that Buffalo is a strong community dedicated to serving the people of the East Side. The store had been closed since a racially-motivated shooting killed 10 people and injured three more on May 14.

Tops president John Persons thanks the Buffalo Police and Firefighters who helped during the May 14 attack at the Jefferson Avenue location. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Common Council President Bishop Darius G. Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church, recognized the anger many feel after the shooting. Some felt that Tops should close the only supermarket in the area.

“Although we have mixed emotions, one thing we do know is that we are better together,” he said. “Thank God for those who have worked for the past two months, for those who have provided food, money, support, and a shoulder to cry on. Thank you for those who have kept the peace in our community during one of the most tragic times in our city’s history. Thank you for those of you who have stood outside of these fences, the tears rolling down their eyes praying for the families of those who have been affected by this massacre. Thank you that the spotlight on Buffalo has not been about how we tore up our community, but who we came together to rebuild our community.”

John Persons, president of Tops, thanked members of the Buffalo Fire Department and Buffalo Police Department, many of whom were in attendance, for their ongoing support and partnership.

“I also want to share a message of sincere gratitude to our community and all of our associates,” Persons said. “Our hearts still ache after the violent racist attack that took 10 black lives and injured three others. But, the only way I know to recover from such heartache is through love and gratitude. People in Western New York came together in such amazing ways after that hateful attack. There was tremendous outpouring of love to respond to local needs and to ensure that the community still had access to food and other services. That served as a source of inspiration to all of us at Tops as we focused our attention on supporting our associates, our customers in the entire Jefferson Avenue neighborhood in the days that followed the shooting.”

Persons described the renovated store as providing more room for produce, organics and personal care items, and also offering opportunities for nutritional education and health screenings.

Mayor Byron Brown called the location “sacred ground.”

“It was a source of pride and progress when the supermarket opened, and hundreds and hundreds of people in our community rely on this supermarket for their primary grocery shopping needs. When Tops stepped forward and opened the supermarket, they became a leader in the grocery industry and in the retail industry understanding the market that exists in urban communities and the equity that urban communities deserve. Ten precious, beautiful members of our community had their lives taken. Three others injured. We will never, ever forget them.”

Mayor Brown complimented the strength and resolve of the families of the victims “an example of what Buffalo is; an example for the rest of the nation of how we come together in times of challenge and in times of crisis, and how we help each other heal.”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher speaks with Michael Hill, one of the organizers of “An Offering,” an Urban Street Art Exhibition created in response to the May 14 shooting on Jefferson Avenue. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Buffalo Common Council Member Ulysees Wingo read the names of those killed on May 14 as he led those who had gathered into a moment of silence.

Pat Patterson, assistant dairy/frozen manager for the Jefferson Avenue store, recited a poem commissioned by Buffalo Poet Laureate Jillian Hanesworth that is inscribed inside the store.

State Attorney General Letitia James and State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes also spoke. The gathering closed with a presentation by the African American Cultural Center.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher was present, but did not speak publicly. Following the gathering he commented that he is grateful to Tops for reinvesting in the community.

“We continue to pray for the families of the victims who died,” Bishop Fisher said. “They won’t be forgotten. Their memory invigorates us to be better and to provide for the spiritual, as well as the total, well-being of the people there, and inspires us to speak out against hatred and racism that certainly plagues our community and our society.”

The nearly 30,000 square-foot store was built May 2003 in the food desert of the East Side of Buffalo. The store now includes a memorial “water well” inside the store entrance. New Adinkra symbols at the entrance and exit represent welcoming, peace and farewell. Tops also is working with the local community to develop a permanent remembrance area outside the store.

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