By Bejay Browne
THE owner of a popular bar in Coral Bay in Paphos is still coming to terms with the second arson attack on his premises in the space of just one year.
The fire, which was set at around 4.30am on Monday, September 5, caused a huge amount of damage to the bar/cafe interior, burning fixtures and fittings such as bar-stools, tables, chairs, cash registers, DJ equipment and other furnishings, as well as ruining the décor.
English Cypriot businessman Tony Theophanides opened Chalkie’s bar on the popular ‘strip’ in Coral Bay two years ago. On September 8, 2015, almost a year to the day of last week’s incident, the first arson attack took place.
He told the Sunday Mail that the latest attack had left him feeling numb and most concerned for his 14 staff, as it left them unable to work and earn a living.
“Last year we were very upset when the fire was set and this time I feel numb. It’s mindless and it didn’t work last time and it’s not going to work this time,” he said defiantly.
Theophanides said that the fire was set deliberately, at about 4.30am on Monday morning. The venue had been open on Sunday and had been busy all day. He left for home at around 2.30am.
CCTV surveillance cameras caught two men on camera before they angled them upwards. The footage has been handed over to police. The businessman said that the men then broke in via the fire exit to the side of the property.
“They broke in and rummaged behind the bar and took the till drawer which just had a few coins left in it.”
They then doused much of the interior with petrol.
“The fire services said that the culprits poured a lot of petrol inside, behind the bar, on the sofas, the pool table and the DJ box, before setting it alight. The internal cameras caught them and this is recorded straight to iCloud,” he said.
Paphos police spokesman Nicos Tsappis confirmed that a police investigation into the incident is ongoing although no arrests have yet been made.
He said that these types of arson attacks occur regularly islandwide and that in the last five years more than ten businesses and vehicles have been deliberately set alight in Paphos.
“Sometimes it can be difficult for the police to secure a conviction, but where business owners inform us of differences with other people, we can secure suspects and this makes our job less difficult,” he said.
He added that in such cases, police usually secure a conviction. The punishment is up to 14 years in prison.
The Paphos resident said that he had no idea as to the cost of the damage yet, but that it was substantial. He added that luckily no-one was hurt and businesses either side were not affected. He was reluctant to speculate as to who might be responsible in case if affected the police investigation.
“We are one of the most successful bars in Coral Bay and are busy both day and night. We have a good reputation and people love our breakfasts which is why we have so much repeat business.”
On Monday afternoon and evening, after dozens of customers arrived at the bar to express their support and shock, a determined Theophanides opened the surviving outside bar to customers.
“It was nice to see so many people all offering to help and do what they can, from clearing and cleaning and helping to rebuild. It was a real ‘blitz’ sort of feeling, in the face of adversity, you rally round to help your friends.”
Theophanides said that the insurance assessors have already visited the premises and that he and the staff are determined to open as soon as they can, hopefully by the end of the month.
“We are not going to let bullies beat us,” he said.
He also heaped praise on all of the authorities involved, including his insurance company and the police. He added that the fire services had been exceptional.
The business owner pointed out that stupid actions such as arson have wider ramifications for the entire area, which could also suffer.
“Coral Bay is a popular area with visitors and they like to visit the strip. These people don’t think how a burnt out businesses looks, it will make people, especially families, think twice about visiting the area. They wonder ‘What on earth goes on here’.”