VASSALBORO – Donald Crabtree says he opened the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in 2009 so he, his staff and his customers could smile.

Crabtree isn’t smiling anymore.

Following a recent notice from the town’s code officer that the shop was violating zoning rules by displaying new signs — one advertised a benefit topless car wash — Crabtree said this week he plans to close the controversial business on Route 3 after his inventory is sold in the coming months.

“I wanted to have some fun; I wanted to see people smile,” Crabtree said. “I started the topless coffee shop to do that, and it did. But now my smile’s gone. I’ve fought that fight for more than two years now and no matter how hard I try to make this work, somebody sabotages me.”

The shop, which has featured topless waitresses, garnered national media attention when it first opened in this rural community, provoking outrage among many residents. It prompted Vassalboro and many other communities to adopt ordinances regulating where and when sexually oriented businesses can operate.

Crabtree’s original building, a former motel, burned to the ground in a June 2009 fire that investigators say was the result of arson. The man charged with the fire, Raymond Bellavance Jr., who was in a relationship with one of the waitresses, is awaiting trial.

But Crabtree, 43, said the final straw for him was the recent notice from the town of violations over large signs he set up. One advertised a benefit topless car wash, while a portable sign proclaimed: “Boobies Wanted.”

Crabtree said he removed the signs Thursday night, after he was given seven days by the code officer to do so or else face legal action.

At public meetings and in letters to the editor, residents of Vassalboro and surrounding communities have bemoaned not only the business, but what they view as the negative attention for the town.

The Rev. Steve Rogers of the Vassalboro Baptist Church said he’s pleased the shop will close.

“I hate to see a business disappear, but . . .” Rogers said, letting the word hang.

“That’s really not the type of business Vassalboro needs. It’s had an effect on the community and upset people. I think the majority of the town is going to be very pleased it’s shutting down and hopefully whoever buys it will run a more family-friendly business.”

Dan Feeney, Vassalboro’s code officer, said he went to inspect the signs April 26 after receiving complaints. Feeney said Crabtree’s signs are bigger than what’s allowed under his local permit and under the adult-only business ordinance.

“It’s not what’s on the signs; it’s the signs themselves,” Feeney said Friday.

Feeney also informed Crabtree that he couldn’t hold a benefit car wash on his property, nor sell lobsters there, because those activities would change the property’s allowed use. Crabtree says he is a licensed wholesale lobster seller and is permitted to sell lobsters out of his truck.

Crabtree doesn’t understand why he’s not allowed to hold a benefit to raise money, even though he concedes a topless car wash is “probably pushing it a little bit.”

Crabtree claims people have spread rumors about drug use and prostitution ever since his business opened, all of which he adamantly denies.

“These people are bound and determined to shut you down,” he said. “I’m singled out, but I’m just trying to make a living like everyone else.”

Regular customer Herman Jellison, 47, of Whitefield, said he’s sorry the coffee shop will close.

“I don’t blame him,” Jellison said of Crabtree. “This town’s been harassing him since he’s been here. People really need to mind their own business.”

Since the fire, the coffee shop has continued inside a trailer on the property.

Crabtree says he doesn’t attract nearly as many customers as he did at first, so he’s reduced hours of operation and employs four women as waitresses.

He has been trying to rebuild the coffee shop building through donations, but he’s had barely enough money to get by.

The shop now charges a $5 door fee, which Crabtree says is basically a mandatory tip for the waitresses, and cups of coffee are $3 for the first one and $6 for subsequent ones.

Crabtree conceded that the decision to close the shop is as much about frustration with the town as it is a financial and psychological reality.

“The business is slowly dying,” he said. “You can’t win. I’m killing myself, is what I’m doing.”