Cash-for-gold wars hurt neighbours

Harold Jewellery Buyer firebombing leaves adjacent business closed

In North Toronto, many are calling the cash-for-gold business an escalating war — one where collateral damage is affecting more than just the participants.

While the business has always attracted its share of attention, recent months have seen that attention turn from the low-budget TV commercials to high-profile crime stories.

The latest, an arson attack in late December, has forced Harold the Jewellery Buyer to move from Glencairn Avenue and Bathurst Street to a storefront up the street, near Lawrence Avenue West. The arson incident, though, comes after a bizarre headline-grabbing incident months before, when an employee of Harold Jewellery Buyer was arrested for allegedly hiring a hit man to kill rival businessman Jack Berkovits.

Omni Jewelcrafters, owned by Berkovits, sits kitty-corner from the former Harold the Jewellery Buyer storefront.

Its Glencairn location was virtually gutted on Dec. 27 when during the overnight hours a molotov cocktail is believed to have been tossed into the storefront. But owner Harold Gerstel was able to relocate the next day.

Other businesses at the Glencairn and Bathurst site, however, were affected by the blaze. Frank Peng, who runs a computer repair business just three doors down, said he was working late the night the store was attacked. He said it took only a couple of minutes for the smoke to spread.

“I called 9-1-1 and had to escape (through the back door),” he said. Many of Peng’s computers suffered smoke damage.

Most of the businesses in the plaza were closed for at least a week afterward. UHR Draperies, next-door to the gutted shop, still hasn’t reopened. The Royal Bank branch was forced to have new carpets and a new ceiling installed. Three and a half weeks later, some storeowners were still complaining of the smell permeating their walls.

One storeowner, who asked not to be identified, lamented the loss of an entire week of business.

“We still can’t work with the smell like that,” he said. “When customers come in, everybody says it stinks.”

Another person from the area, who also didn’t want to be identified said he just wants to see the cash for gold businesses gone altogether.

He says there were never any problems in the upscale neighbourhood until the cash-for-gold stores started popping up in the past few years.

While police continue to investigate the arson attack, trouble seems to have followed Gerstel to his new location. According to police reports, the new store had its windows hit several times with a blunt object on Jan. 8, then another window was broken on Jan. 11 when a brick was tossed through it.

But Gerstel plays down the incidents, saying those attacks haven’t been constant. He said the acts of vandalism are not a fair reflection of the industry as a whole.

“Every business has its good and its bad,” he said. “(In this case) it’s not the business that’s bad, it’s just that there are bad apples in the business.”

About this article:

By: Shawn Star
Posted: Jan 25 2011 4:52 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto