Barkeeper ‘Trader Jon’ Dies at 84
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Martin Weissman, better known as ``Trader Jon,″ was never in the Navy, but he was renowned among naval aviators for serving up cheer, loyalty and friendship at his ramshackle saloon.
The proprietor of Trader Jon’s for nearly half a century died Friday at Sacred Heart Hospital at the age of 84. He never fully recovered from a 1997 stroke that left him partly paralyzed and with impaired speech.
Trader Jon’s was a fixture for aviators from Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Navy’s training headquarters.
The impish Weissman treated everyone with equal affection, from raw recruits to war heroes, astronauts and celebrities, retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman said Saturday.
``He was a loving, caring guy who never said anything bad about anybody,″ Fetterman recalled. ``You talk about bonding, and you talk about brotherhood, and you talk about what naval aviation was all about. Trader kind of provided that foundation.″
Weissman was an honorary flight leader of the Blue Angels precision flying team, based at Pensacola, and they would sometimes give him rides in their jets.
``It’s natural to love guys who take chances,″ Weissman said in an interview with The New York Times four months before his stroke. ``You’ve got to earn their love, their friendship.″
Friends said Weissman’s generosity to sailors down on their luck, his ability to remember patrons’ names and his constant smile were legendary.
Weissman’s trademark was mismatched socks, offering a ridiculously huge _ and never collected _ reward if anyone ever caught him in a matching pair. His response to almost every question: ``Bee-you-tee-ful.″
The New York City native opened Trader Jon’s in 1953 in an old brick building, once a ship chandlery, on Pensacola’s waterfront after serving in the Army and tending bar in Miami and Key West.
His customers helped Weissman fill Trader Jon’s with a wing and other pieces of aircraft, flight suits, crash helmets, dozens of model airplanes and hundreds of photographs. In 1996, Weissman moved some of the memorabilia to an adjacent building that he turned into a Blue Angels museum.
The state recognized Weissman’s role in naval aviation by placing a historic marker in front of Trader Jon’s in 1992.
Comedian Bob Hope, actors John Wayne, Ernest Borgnine and Elizabeth Taylor and England’s Prince Andrew were among celebrities who visited Trader Jon’s.
Weissman never returned to work after his stroke. His family kept the bar going until late 1998 when it was closed and put up for sale. A group of Navy veterans has been raising money in an effort to purchase and preserve the bar, but Fetterman said it will never be the same.
``In my heart, I can’t think of that bar without Trader,″ he said.
Weissman is survived by his wife, Jackii, and two daughters, Cheri Weissman of Pensacola and Dahl Burke of Miami.