For Tops, Saturday's shooting marked a dark day at a store that brought joy to a neighborhood

When Tops Markets opened its Jefferson Avenue supermarket in Buffalo 19 years ago, residents who had been calling for a full-service grocery store for more than a decade rejoiced that one had finally come to their neighborhood. 

But after Saturday, the joy will forever be obscured by a horrific tragedy.

Ten people were gunned down at a Buffalo supermarket Saturday in a horrifying mass shooting that officials were quick to label as “pure evil” and racially motivated. The shooting stunned a community basking in a warm May afternoon, with shoppers filling the Tops in a predominantly Black neighborhood at 1275 Jefferson Ave. 

About 2:31 p.m. Saturday, an 18-year-old gunman from more than three hours away traveled to the store and killed 10 people and wounded three others in what law enforcement officials described as a racially motivated hate crime.

A state of shock rippled through the neighborhood and beyond, on what was surely the darkest day in the supermarket chain’s history. Four Tops employees were shot, including a recently retired Buffalo police officer who was working security at the store and was killed, law enforcement officials said.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” Tops spokesperson Kathy Sautter said. “Our top priority remains the health and well-being of our associates and customers. We appreciate the quick response of local law enforcement and are providing all available resources to assist authorities in the ongoing investigation.”

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Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Broome County, was arraigned before Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah on a first-degree murder charge. If found guilty, he faces a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

By late Saturday, Tops had provided no other comment as it digested the news and awaited further answers.

Other nearby employers also put out messages to their workers. Grocery chain Wegmans sent an email to their employees Saturday, noting the shooting occurred just a few miles from its Amherst Street store and assuring workers that its “commitment to your personal safety, health and well-being has never been stronger.” Wegmans closed its Buffalo-area stores at 9 p.m. Saturday to give employees time to process the event, with plans to reopen at 6 a.m. Sunday.

It affected many people who punch a clock, especially throughout Tops, a chain of 150 full-service supermarkets across New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Frank DeRiso, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local One, which represents Tops employees, said he’s had discussions with Tops executives, and the company is going to make sure the employees in the Jefferson Avenue store “get the proper care they need” and don’t lose out on any paychecks while the store is closed for an undetermined amount of time. 

For DeRiso, involved with unions since 1975 and a local union president since 1990, he’s never been involved with a situation like what unfolded Saturday. DeRiso, based in Oriskany, near Utica, planned to travel to Buffalo on Monday.

Mass shooting in Buffalo: What we know

Here’s what we know and what we do not know about the mass shooting at the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. 

“When are we going to wake up as a society? It’s just terrible,” he said. “And then, you know, you’re a customer, you go there to shop on a Saturday afternoon, never expecting that you’re not going to come home. It’s just senseless, it’s stupid. And something’s got to be done about it.”

The UFCW represents about 70 to 80 workers at the Jefferson Avenue store, 20 to 25 of whom were likely working at the store when the shooting started Saturday afternoon – a busy shopping time for many residents at their supermarket close to their home.

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Jon Harris can be reached at 716-849-3482 or Follow him on Twitter at @ByJonHarris.

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