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 a 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.
It’s 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 Smith, the 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.