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Bar owner steals €51,000 from customers’ ‘savings boxes’

19:01 10/02/2020

The owner of a neighbourhood bar in Ternat, a few kilometres west of Brussels, has made off with €50,000 of her customers’ savings. The woman stole the cash from the spaarkas, or savings boxes, located in the bar.

What? I hear you asking. Why would anyone keep money in a bar?

Because some people deposit cash into little savings boxes located in local pubs, a holdover from yesteryear when labourers were paid in cash. Pubs were more ubiquitous than banks, and there’s no one workers trusted more than the barkeep at their local.

Tiny towns like Sint-Katherina-Lombeek – where this bar is located and which has since merged with the larger Ternat – often offered security boxes to their customers. They are basically numbered slits in boxes built into the wall, where customers can drop in however much cash they want.

As the 20th century progressed, fewer and fewer people did this, but many people, especially older people, still do. Often they only deposit €5 or €10 here and there to make sure they can still order a few pints sometime if they’re short on cash. Others use them to save separately from regular savings accounts, for Christmas presents, for instance, or another special occasion.

Yearly pay-out

Cafes have rules around the use of savings boxes, with regular pay-outs the norm so that not too much money builds up. Generally the pay-out is once a year. There is also a weekly check of the boxes, where everyone with savings can come to ensure that what they put in the box is still there. Some cafés in fact deposit their customers’ money in a bank when it builds up into the hundreds or thousands.

There are few legal regulations around savings boxes, but some 15 years ago, it became a requirement that owners had to take a copy of their savings box customers’ ID cards. The Netherlands also has a savings box system in its older cafes.

In any case, some people deposit thousands in these pub boxes. The bar De Meiboom in Ternat was housing €50,000 from only 30 customers. One of them had €5,000 in the bar, and another had €3,250. The daughter of the latter has engaged a lawyer to try to get the money back.

“What I did was not OK, but sometimes you find yourself in an emergency and are short on money, and you do stupid things,” said the owner of the bar in a letter that she sent to the customers with savings boxes. “I am going to do whatever it takes to pay back every last cent.”

Police in Ternat are investigating the theft.

Photo: A typical savings box in a neighbourhood café      
©Courtesy VRT

Written by Lisa Bradshaw