Cortland diner criticized over banner supporting GOP nominee Trump

CORTLAND – After the Top Notch Diner and its owners received some strongly worded online criticism for the restaurant’s choice to hang a large “Trump” banner outside, members of the Warren Republican Women’s Club showed their support Saturday – first for the diner with their dollars and then for the candidate they hope to see elected president.

Women in the club said they wanted to make an appearance to show solidarity with the restaurant’s former owner, Gary Frederick, who hung the banner to support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and who recently passed ownership of the 11-year-old establishment to his daughters, Shonna Bland and Martha Frederick.

“We are here to support (Gary Frederick). He has gumption to put that sign out there, and this is a democracy, he has every right to put his opinion out there without being responded to in such a negative way,” club member Jean Cramer said.

About 20 members and other supporters sporting pro-Trump gear filled seats in the building’s front windows, and their conversation altered between their show of support and a discussion of Friday’s breaking news – a newly released video of Trump speaking in lewd terms about his treatment of women.

“Talk is cheap, and boys will be boys,” said Mary Theis of Warren. “Girls talk the same behind closed doors. Men, and women, we like to brag.”

Theis was reacting to recordings obtained by The Washington Post and NBC News where Trump bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women who were not his wife and married themselves, in a conversation with Billy Bush, who at the time was a host of the television show “Access Hollywood.”

The celebrity businessman boasted he grabs women by the genitals and kisses them without waiting for permission, and “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

The remarks were captured by a live microphone that Trump did not appear to know was recording their conversation. He has since issued a statement stating he apologizes “if anyone was offended.”

“There are no perfect candidates,” said club member Jean Cramer. “And like any other person, (Trump) knows when it is appropriate or not to talk like that, just like everyday people know.”

Theis and Cramer both said the incident is being used to move focus away from the issues – and no matter what Trump said 11 years ago, they said he is still the candidate that will appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court and protect constitutional rights like the right to bear arms and free speech.

After Gary Frederick hung the banner between two bucket trucks at the end of September and posted a photo of it to a social media website, reactions started flooding the comments section.

“Better watch out, Democrats or independents might come through the door, but after seeing the chump sign, they will know they are not welcome,” a comment from a user called Belinda Bontina states.

“WOW! Bold step … most savvy business owners know better than to step into politics – no point in alienating ANY customer. And you chose to do so in this viper’s nest! Good luck! I won’t be back,” a comment from a user called Lisa Bennett states.

“I eat at your establishment every week. I love your staff and I like the food. With that being said, I think it’s a terrible idea to mix business and politics. You will turn away business because of your political opinion. It makes me not want to eat there anymore to be honest. I think it would be better if you just kept your opinion to yourself and leave your business out of it. Just my opinion…” a comment from a user called Abbey Adgate Spain states.

But Gary Frederick said the backlash hasn’t affected business, and the reactions he has heard in person have all been supportive.

“Doesn’t the government affect small businesses? I have to support the candidate who will stand up for small businesses,” Gary Frederick said. “I think Trump will cut taxes and get rid of the red tape that is such a burden on small businesses. And when he does, businesses like this could expand.”

Bland said the comments online made her furious because the banner was never meant to exclude people with different political views. But, she said, they seemed to be dismissing the diner for their views and support of Trump.

“We would never tell people they aren’t welcome here,. We would never judge someone like that,” Bland said. “To attack my dad that way, to call him ‘stupid’ and a ‘bad business owner,’ was just out of line and made me angry.”

Bland, Frederick and the club members said they felt vindicated by the show of support, not just from patrons who continue to dine but the barrage of car “honks” from those showing their support.

After breakfast, the club members held signs outside the restaurant, 682 S. High St., just before the busy intersection of state Routes 46 and 5 in Cortland. More cars beeped support than didn’t most of the morning.

Helen Gawne of Mecca considered the day a success, with only one vulgar hand gesture and no shouts of “fascist,” like she said the club members have heard before.

rfox@tribtoday.com