Fire guts Maine topless coffee shop

Posted June 03, 2009, at 10:26 a.m.

VASSALBORO, Maine — A topless coffee shop that created controversy went up in flames early Wednesday, just hours after the owner talked with local officials about making the business more like a strip club.

Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office were sifting through the smoking ruins of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop to determine what caused the blaze.

The fire was reported just before 1 a.m. by an ambulance that happened to be driving past. It took about 50 firefighters from eight communities to douse it.

Owner Donald Crabtree, who escaped unharmed along with six others, was asked if the fire seemed suspicious, coming just hours after he appeared before the town’s planning board.

“I don’t even dare to say at this time,” Crabtree said.

At the shop, waiters and waitresses without shirts served coffee and doughnuts. Crabtree had met Tuesday night with planning officials to discuss adding a disc jockey, expanding parking and extending the hours of operation.

Crabtree said he spent $277,000 buying and renovating the former motel in Vassalboro, just north of Augusta. It wasn’t insured, he said.

The shop’s opening in February raised the ire of dozens of residents. Someone recently called police to complain that a waitress was outside the business without a shirt. An ordinance was proposed to regulate nudity at local businesses.

While many people dropped by Wednesday morning to show support, it was clear that others were pleased about the fire, said Paul Crabtree, the owner’s brother.

“It’s sad to see people driving by and acting happy about it,” he said.

Steve Cooper, of Vassalboro, stopped to peruse the damage while passing by on his motorcycle. He had never been in the shop, but said it was a shame the fire had put people out of work.

“I don’t think the business was doing any harm,” he said.

A waitress at the shop, Krista MacIntyre, said the job was the best she’s ever had. She hopes the fire doesn’t put the shop out of business.

“We should keep on going, get back up and make it an even bigger place,” she said.

Richard Flick estimated that 97 percent of Vassalboro’s 4,200 residents opposed the topless cafe. He hopes Crabtree doesn’t rebuild.

Sherry Perry, also of Vassalboro, said: “I’m a believer and I’m a Christian and I don’t want this trash in my backyard. No good can come from it.”

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