Friday, December 3, 2021

A Man and The Beach He Loves

Photos by Steve Stefanides | Tony and Board.

When you talk to Tony Smith, the concessionaire down at the Tigertail Beach, you will not hear a negative word. He is about the most upbeat individual you will ever have the privilege to meet, and he attributes it all to the opportunities that have been afforded to him since coming to the United States. 

When I first met Tony in the late 80s, he told me as a child he had visited the States and witnessed the liftoff of Apollo 14 as it hurled towards the moon on its third manned mission. “What a great country this is that can accomplish such a feat,” said Smith on that day I met him at the Hilton Hotel. 

Smith was not without his own great adventures in life. As a young man in England, he served as a Grenadier Guardsman, one of the most elite fighting forces in the free world. Their duties also included being the protector of the Royal Family, as well as an elite infantry fighting group which was often deployed for anti-terrorism assignments. 

For over 30 years now, he has been the stalwart promoter of the small stretch of sand known as Tigertail Beach. He started his career here on the island as a part-time tennis instructor at the Hilton but was strongly drawn to the allure of the beach, and he eventually joined in a partnership with the individual who held the concessionaire contract for rentals at Tigertail Beach.  

Smith understood the great potential for enjoyment that stretch of sand held for those that visited it, and the lack of commitment his partner had to take it to the next level. So, Smith did what any young entrepreneur would do. He bought out his partner and continued his 30-year love affair with Tigertail. 

In 2006, Smith also acquired the food concession for Tigertail. “When the former owner decided to call it quits, I thought it was a no-brainer,” Smith recounted. “I do think the lads and gals that work for me up there do a great job, but it is a tough business and we did pour a considerable amount of capital into it to improve the equipment and the experience for folks that come to the beach. We also encourage those looking for a unique lunch experience to come out and give us a try.” 

Both the Beach Café and the Tiger Tail Beach Rentals is run by the Smith family, which have consistently been given extremely high ratings for food, service and value through Trip-Advisor.

For Tony Smith, his love of the beach is only second to the connection he holds with veterans’ organizations and the children in Collier County. A veteran himself, Smith feels his responsibility to give back to those that have defended freedom as members of the United States Military and strongly contributes to organizations such as the Freedom Waters Association. That organization provides opportunities for veterans to experience the thrill of paddle boarding and kayaking. 

Smith himself has also been extremely active in coaching sports on both the local level, which included the Marco Island Charter Middle School, at Lely High School and through the local Optimist Club. 

Besides his love of the beach, service to veterans’ organizations, coaching, and his family, Smith has become an accomplished self-taught painter and musician as well as a wildlife photographer. As he put it best, “All these things just give me a great feeling of inner peace. 

Smith needed some inner peace, especially after Hurricane Irma tore through Marco Island in September of 2017. “It was a terrible day when we walked back into the park, but it became worse when we realized we’d not be receiving any assistance from anyone to rebuild what we had created over all those years.” 

Smith and his team would not be deterred, however, and they rebuilt what they created after that storm tore through the island. A bigger disappointment came when staff within Collier County overlooked all of what had been created by Smith and were preparing to sign a new concessionaire contract with an individual with no beach concession experience. Smith was not about to roll over after 30 years of dedicated experience and service to the Collier County Citizens.  

After a challenge and review of the bids, along with public records requests for emails that may have shed some light on the reasoning behind staff’s decision resulted in an abrupt change of direction by staff. The county would then advertise for a second bid for the concessionaire agreement. When those bids were received, only Smith and one other bidder, not the party who was going to be awarded the contract on the first go-around, but another bidder whose proposal was deemed to be non-conforming in response to the bid.

Smith continued to contest some of the increases in this newest contract. Originally, he’d be paying 12% of his gross proceeds to the county, along with a $500 minimum to be paid to the county. 5 years ago, the county adjusted the gross take to 13%, a $50 utility charge and a $500 minimum. This latest contract found the county raising the percentage of his gross from 13% to 20%, which equaled a 53.84% increase. To make matters worse, they were now asking for a $2000 minimum versus the old $500 minimum, which calculates at a 300% increase. 

Its clear that the staff may be looking to force Smith, a 30 plus year loyal concessionaire with Collier County, from his position. 

In January of this year, the county ceased raking the beach at Tigertail. The lack of maintenance has impacted what revenues are received from rentals at that location due to the condition of the beach, the raking of which was unilaterally discontinued without notice to Smith in January. Gary McAlprin, the Coastal Zone Manager, has referred to Tigertail as a less than flattering description. 

To add insult to injury, without any notice to Smiththe county has begun dumping hardshell material from their excavation work on the south end of the Marco Island Beach. That dumping has resulted in huge piles of shells on the beach which Smith has a contract to provide concessionaire services to, adding another deterrent to Smith’s income potential. 

It is unclear what the intentions are of the county and its staff are. However, it is clear that this individual, who was hardened in battle as a young man and has given 30 years of his life to Tigertail Beach, is tired of being bullied and would like a fair shake. 

17 responses to “A Man and The Beach He Loves”

  1. Bob Marvin says:

    I like having Tony there, he is a wealth of knowledge and a great person, as well as his family.

  2. Mike Sweeney says:

    Why don’t you, Coastal Breeze, conduct an investigation into this matter? Perhaps you could initiate a petition to the county commission of Marco residents wanting to keep Tony Smith as the concessionaire.

  3. Bernadette says:

    Give the Smiths a break. Let them earn a living doing what they have been doing over the past 30 years. Let people enjoy this beach and all that goes with it.
    40 year resident.

  4. Dorothy A Passini says:

    This is crazy…I’ve been a resident of Marco over 35years.
    I’ve always went to Tigertail Beach since I could bike or walk from my home.
    My family and friends Have always Enjoyed Tigertail especially with Tony Smith running the concession. Friendly, helpful and always on the job.
    To have to fight for something he made work and now the county wants pull the wool over all our eyes is ridiculous.
    I for one and believe so many others are in favor for Tony Smith and his crew and believe his hard work shows how much he should not have to fight for what he has worked for all these years.
    Do the right thing and stop this…Tigertail Beach is what it is because of Tony Smith and his staff.

  5. Jeff says:

    It is a disgrace that Collier County would seem to extort money from such a honest and loyal businessman. What is their true motive? Is the county trying to make up for its own inefficiencies. Maybe it is just a good old’ boy relationship they are trying to go back to. Something is just not right, the commissioners need to reevaluate priorities and study each of its departments operations. The County wastes an enormous amount money on road median landscaping that require high degree of maintenance and which nobody cares about, while the road and the park maintenance leaves much to be desired. There are plenty of places where the county can save money other on the backs of people like Tony Smith

  6. Paul Kramer says:

    Not surprised at all. Politicians tend to screw the work horses of this country daily.

  7. Gillian Antani says:

    Can anyone give an explanation of this very underhanded behavior by Collier County!

  8. Rich Blonna says:

    Excellent article Stef. I shared your story on my Facebook page and in 4 groups. Is there any organized effort to help Tony and let the citizens know what is going on? Lastly. How do I find out the names of those responsible for the actions that have been taken?

  9. R. Lowe says:

    That’s very sad. It seems some people are using their positions to treat him unfairly. I hope your article helps shed some light on this. One sentence I don’t understand is this; “ Gary McAlprin, the Coastal Zone Manager, has referred to Tigertail as a less than flattering description.”

  10. Matthew Opperman says:

    Well obviously something is going on and while this is one side. It sounds like the side to be on. Smith who I have not met but now will try to make a point of it to do, has dedicated his life to an area frequently called a wonderful place for shelling. It is usually not crowded and the last time I was there several months ago clean and in good shape. The county has enough or had enough tax area with Marriott and others to appreciate the value Mr. Smith brings to residents and visitors caring for Tigertail. Like I said this is one side but it sure seems like the staff for some reason unbeknownst to us have gone after him. More needs to be done to bring this situation to the people. I’ll post it and hope the Marco group looks with interest. Good luck I look forward to meeting you.

  11. Lucille Thayer says:

    Please, Marco Island, give this man some justice. HE deserves it!

  12. Susan Elsasser says:

    So unfair to a dedicated supporter of Marco island! The beach is county property. should they not be maintaining it by raking it?

  13. Paul Aller says:

    I go to Naples each winter but come to Tiger Tail beach mostly because of Tony Smith and his staff. He is always upbeat and friendly and always remembers me. We eat twice a day at his stand because the food is good. We need to keep Tony and his business right where it is. He is a good citizen and always helps others. It would be a crime to force him out.
    Paul Aller

  14. Maura Coppola says:

    Why would the County do this?!
    ‘Awful treatment of someone who is working to bring a simple joy and make a decent living and support his family. Isn’t this what America is(was) about??

  15. Peg hill says:

    We visit tigertail each year. We enjoy all tigertail. Tony is always helpful to us when we come.
    I dont know exactly what i can do to help keep him there but send this text thank you

  16. Gail V Damon says:

    Thank you for bringing public notice to this TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE behavior from Collier County Officials toward a dedicated County Asset, Tony Smith.

    It’s time for our MARCO ISLAND CITY COUNCIL to step up and fight for TONY and TIGERTAIL BEACH!

  17. Alexandra Ellis says:

    I was very disappointed with the treatment to Tony Smith. I read Donna Fiala’s article that she could not interfere with an employee. But Tony Smith was an independent contractor and so I wished that Donna Fiala had interceded on his behalf. I have emailed her that she has done wonderful things for East Naples, Marco Island, etc. and that I am sorry that she is retiring. But I was unhappy with the outcome and now there are no services of this sort at Tiger Tail until a new vendor opens up. I also did read that Tony Smith may open a restaurant. My good wishes to him for his future endeavors.

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