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READY FOR WORK
NEW EAST SIDE TOPS HAS WORK FORCE IN PLACE

When Tops Markets opens its Jefferson Avenue store July 9, manager Virgil Hamm Jr. expects his new work force will be prepared.

Forty-eight of the people hired for the long-awaited East Side store are working in two other Tops locations to get familiar with their jobs, Hamm said.

The Jefferson Avenue store will start out with 105 employees, a number that will be adjusted based on store volume. About 80 percent of the employees will be part-time workers.

"A lot of people were excited about being able to be employed in their neighborhood," Hamm said.

Hamm knows there's a lot of the community anticipation about the store's debut. He believes the store's employees are committed to ensuring it succeeds.

"I'm very excited," Hamm said. "It's something I've been working on personally over a year now. I'm very confident in our ability to manage that market for what the community expects it to be."

The July opening date, which was announced last week, will end the neighborhood's long wait for a full-service grocery store.

Residents have been calling for such a store for more than a decade. The Tops project was announced two years ago, but didn't open last year because regulatory approvals took longer than expected.

More recently, Tops had planned to open the store in mid-June. Construction remains on schedule, but Tops decided to make some interior changes that have pushed back the first day of business until July, said Stefanie Zakowicz, a Tops spokeswoman.

The new store, located at Jefferson and Landon Street, is receiving support from a number of corners, including $1.5 million in public funding. Masten Council Member Antoine Thompson has helped organize community meetings to inform residents about hiring and how to become a supplier to Tops.

While construction crews build the store and Tops officials plan a grand opening bash, the location's work force is essentially set, said Linda Talarczyk, a Tops human resources official.

Tops wasn't lacking for job candidates. The company sent out postcards to people living within three or four miles of the location, and about 400 people applied, Talarczyk said. Some applications are still coming in.

As with all Tops stores, the company accepted applications only through its Web site. People without Internet access at home could use computers at places such as libraries or the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. office.

From those applicants, Tops then invited people to attend one of two "hiring days." It recently interviewed about 200 people at the second of the two hiring days. "We pretty much staffed the store," Talarczyk said.

Starting pay for the new jobs is $6.25 per hour, but the company is giving credit for previous job experience.

They'll be working under Hamm, who began with Tops in 1987 and has climbed the company ladder. Most recently he managed the Tops on South Park Avenue in South Buffalo.

Lately, he's been checking in on the new store twice a week to monitor its progress. At 29,000 square feet, it is smaller than a typical Tops, but comparable to another urban Tops store near Rochester that was later expanded.

"It's going to be the first store that we're going to have in the city of Buffalo that's going to be a true urban store," he said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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