VASSALBORO – A deliberately set fire destroyed a topless coffee shop early Wednesday, just hours after the owner talked with local officials about making the business more like a strip club, investigators said.

The fire at the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop was reported just before 1 a.m. by an ambulance that happened to be driving past.

The state fire marshal’s office concluded it was arson after investigators, aided by a specially trained dog, sifted through the shop’s ruins. Officials would not say how or where the fire started, but said evidence was taken to the state police crime lab for analysis.

The coffee shop featured waiters and waitresses without shirts serving coffee and doughnuts. Owner Donald 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. He and six others who live in the old motel escaped the fire unharmed.

Crabtree said he’s determined to reopen his business.

“I’ll keep going. … I’ve got some girls out of work and I’m going to do all I can to get in there,” Crabtree 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 to show support, it was clear that others were pleased about the fire, said Paul Crabtree, the owner’s brother who came to the scene Wednesday morning.

“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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