Just four months after an employee of the well-known Harold the Jewellery Buyer was busted in an alleged murder-for-hire plot involving a competitor, a suspicious fire gutted the shop at 2788 Bathurst St.
The cause of Monday morning’s blaze is still being probed by Toronto Police and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office.
But store owner Harold Gerstel is convinced it was deliberately set. And he believes one of his many rivals was likely behind it.
“We’ve had threats,” Gerstel said, as he surveyed the charred remnants of his business.
He was unwilling to elaborate for fear of hurting the investigation, but he said some others in the industry are “jealous” of his success.
Toronto fire fighters responded to the store on the ground-floor of the office building around 2:30 a.m. after an alarm went off inside and an alert TTC bus driver called 911.
Division Commander Bob O’Hallarn said the shop was “fully engulfed in flames” when firefighters arrived, but they doused the fire within about 15 minutes.
There are several security cameras out front, but investigators don’t know yet if the surveillance footage survived the flames.
“It’s very unfortunate that someone would do something like this,” Gerstel said. “It’s very cowardly.”
He speculated the fire was meant to “intimidate” him.
“It’s not the business that’s dangerous; it’s the people involved in it,” Gerstel said.
He said a flood of businesses in the area started buying gold after seeing how well his shop has done since opening five years ago.
Soaring gold prices have also been a factor.
“It’s my commercials that reel in the customers,” Gerstel said. “These other places all feed off of me.”
Harold the Jewellery Buyer’s main competitor, Omni2 Jewelcrafters, is located across the street.
Omni’s owner, Jack Berkovits, and Gerstel apparently got along just fine until recently — they even attended the same synagogue.
But tensions rose between the two businesses when Omni began buying gold in 2009.
Then last summer, Iranian-born tae kwon do champion Saeed Hosseini came forward claiming he had been hired to kill Berkovits.
Hosseini, who once appeared in a UFC match, claimed he worked for Gerstel as a bodyguard and debt collector.
Maria Konstan, a long-time employee of Harold the Jewellery Buyer, was ultimately charged with numerous offences, including counselling to commit an indictable offence.
The 71-year-old woman, currently out on bail, was at her former boss’ side Monday.
Gerstel continues to call the allegations against the senior “ridiculous.”
Despite the bad blood, he said he doesn’t believe anyone from Omni was behind the fire.
“Maybe someone else,” he said.
Staff at Omni refused to comment Monday.
Although the front windows were smashed out and the walls and floor blackened, Gerstel vowed to re-open by Wednesday, either in the same unit or possibly in a vacant unit.http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/12/27/16680466.html