An angry customer is suspected of torching a white-owned sporting goods store in Harlem just a block from a clothing store where eight people died in a 1995 fire following a racially charged boycott.

Vets Sport Shops went up in flames about 6 a.m. Saturday, a few days after a black man made "anti-white" comments during an argument with the owner, Harvey Ludwin, over the 88-cent sales tax on a $10 hat.The man threatened to firebomb the store, then lifted up his shirt to reveal a tattoo of an AK-47 assault rifle, Ludwin said.

"He said, `You don't know who you're messing with,' " Ludwin was quoted as saying.

The man returned the next day - wearing the army-type hat he had purchased - and urged a black female clerk to get out of the store because he intended to destroy it, Capt. Barbara Sicilia said.