Paul Weintraub, 86, formerly of Philadelphia, innovative and entertaining co-owner of Martin’s Aquarium pet store, entrepreneur who also sold medicine for tropical fish and desert plants in supermarkets, and certified insurance and financial consultant, died Sunday, May 1, of lymphoma at the VITAS Inpatient Unit in Delray Beach, Fla.
Mr. Weintraub grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from Central High School and Temple University, and was best known as co-owner — along with his father, Martin; mother, Rose; and brother, Robert — of Martin’s Aquarium in Philadelphia, Jenkintown and Cherry Hill.
The family billed the pet superstore as the largest in the United States, and Mr. Weintraub, affable and quick-witted, was its public face. An expert on tropical fish, exotic birds, rare reptiles, and desert plants, he became an engaging guest on TV programs, a popular vendor at Philadelphia Flower Shows, an amusing host for elementary school field trips, and a glib spokesman to media types.
In 1983, after announcing a $300 reward for Norton, a rare Australian cockatoo that had gone missing from the Jenkintown store on Old York Road, he told the Daily News: “Norton would walk right up your arm and kiss you on the lips and do a little dance. It’s like losing a friend.”
He was invited onto the Mike Douglas Show to talk about sharks with actor Roy Scheider when the movie Jaws was released in 1975. He provided rare species of all sorts for appearances on local news shows and children’s programs such as the Gene London Show and Captain Noah and His Magical Ark.
In 1986, he called in the press when he discovered a two-headed turtle at the store. “We’re kind of known as a place where strange things happen,” he told The Inquirer. “But this is really unusual.”
Mr. Weintraub’s father opened the aquarium on Ogontz Avenue in 1953, moved it to Jenkintown in 1971 and opened a second location in Cherry Hill in 1981. Interested and effective in all aspects of the operation, Mr. Weintraub helped design the stores, build inventory, set prices, create promotions, and mentor the staff until the business closed in 1992.
“They made the store a destination,” said Mr. Weintraub’s son, Dan. “This was before the big public aquariums, and where else could you go to gawk at exotic fish and other pets? It was pretty exciting.”
Always looking for another business angle, Mr. Weintraub also sold medicine for tropical pet fish and cacti and other desert plants in supermarkets before it was common. In the 1970s, he unsuccessfully pitched the idea of televising the NFL player draft that is now a TV extravaganza.
“My Dad was a warm person, deeply interested in others,” said his son, Ross. “He could call somebody he hadn’t chatted with in a few years and pick up and continue their previous conversation.”
He became a certified insurance and financial consultant when the aquarium closed and retired for good in 2005. “He had a great mind and a great partner in my mom,” said his son, Dan.
Mr. Weintraub met New Yorker Marilyn Levine at a resort in the Pocono Mountains. They married in 1960, had sons Ross, Dan, and Alan, and lived in Dresher and Elkins Park. Later, Mr. Weintraub and his wife split time between Philadelphia and Delray Beach.
Born Dec. 29, 1935, Mr. Weintraub grew up in Mount Airy and earned a bachelor’s degree in business and finance at Temple in 1957. A fossil enthusiast, he collected hundreds of samples and led family excursions to dig in the rocks for more.
He was chairman of the Jenkintown Rotary membership committee, collected Japanese netsukes, grew orchids, liked word games, and followed Temple sports. Mathematically inclined, he was a bronze life master in bridge, and he and his wife created the MS Bridge Across America fund-raiser after his son, Alan, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001.
“I know that he took pride in me and cared about my well being,” Alan Weintraub said.
“The through line of his life,” said his son, Dan, “was creativity, curiosity, and a passion for creatures.”
In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Weintraub is survived by four grandchildren and other relatives. His brother and a sister died earlier.
Services were on Wednesday, May 4.
Donations in his name may be made to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, 747 Third Ave., 33rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, PO Box 91891, Washington, D.C. 20090, and the Stefanie Rothschild scholarship fund at Georgetown University, Gift Processing Dept. No. 0734, Washington, D.C. 20073.