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Jet’s closing after 50-plus years

Jet’s Florida Outdoors, which has outfitted South Florida campers and sportsmen since the 1950s, is closing — for good.

Store owner Mark Siegel could not pass up a $2 million offer from City National Bank of Florida, which he says plans to build a branch on the 24,650-square-foot lot at 9696 Bird rd. Strictly a business decision, says Siegel, 57, who began working at Jet’s full time while attending Southwest High. “If I made it as an emotional decision, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

last regular business day was Saturday. Jet’s will close through Wednesday so Siegel can mark down merchandise, then reopen Thursday for a liquidation sale. Inventory includes tents and lanterns, mosquito repellent, firearms and knives, rock climbing equipment, clothing and backpacks.

Siegel’s dad, Harold, and uncle Clarence founded Tropic Trades in ’55 and opened PX Army-Navy on Tamiami Trail. in ’58, they built the existing store, eventually calling it Jet’s Army-Navy. in 1980, with his father and uncle deceased, Siegel changed his business plan, switching to outdoor equipment because there was less army-navy surplus merchandise to sell.

Customers include cops, celebs, hunters, scouts, corporate chiefs and international travelers. Among them: Lenny Kravitz, Richard Dreyfuss, Pitbull, Don Johnson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Martina Navratilova, Frank Borman and Janet Reno.

Jet’s was an agent for hunting and fishing licenses. The store sold space heaters and thermal underwear for cold snaps; trunks, sweatshirts and canteens for kids bound for summer camp; and, of course, hurricane supplies. “We would have people waiting hours in line to fill their portable barbecue tanks and buy flashlights, stoves, lanterns,” Siegel says.

he was quick to spot trends — gun sales picked up after Miami’s civil disturbances, and American flags were in huge demand during Desert Storm. Jet’s banner years were in the early to mid-1990s, when gross sales were $3.5 million and the staff numbered 25. he now averages $2 million with a staff of 17, most of whom have worked there for 20-plus years.

“Some of the employees are going to take it as an opportunity to have a sabbatical,” Siegel says. others are job hunting.

Daughter Julie Abreu, 33, works at Jet’s and oversees its online store. Whether they continue the web operation is up in the air.

Siegel will have more time to devote to his other life — as a Miami-Dade reserve police officer assigned to Marine Patrol. he became a reserve cop in ’74, after earning a criminal justice degree at Florida International University. he works a minimum of 16 hours per month — for $1 a year — and is the second most senior of MDPD’s 58 reservists. in ’97, MDPD named Siegel Reserve Officer of the Year — for his volunteer efforts after the ’96 ValuJet crash in the Everglades. Siegel, a certified police diver, took two weeks off from work to help search the water for victims’ remains and belongings, and aircraft debris. “Not pleasant,” he says.

Jet’s will shut down by July 1. Siegel and wife Marie, avid Harley-Davidson riders, may head for North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway — on their bikes.

Jet’s closing after 50-plus years