If you ask Tony Smith what his closing thoughts are regarding his time as a concessionaire on Marco at Tigertail Beach, he has nothing but positive things to say. “These have been some of the best years of my life,” Smith began. “The people I’ve met that have come here are some of the most delightful I’ve ever had the privilege to know.”
Smith will be finishing up 32 years as the concessionaire at Tigertail and is very well known throughout the East Naples, Marco Island and Goodland communities. Both the Beach Café and the Tigertail Beach Rentals is run by the Smith family, which have consistently been given extremely high ratings for food, service and value through Trip-Advisor and will cease operation on July 14.
Smith himself has also been extremely active in coaching sports on 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.
“All these things just give me a great feeling of inner peace,” said Smith.
Smith has been struggling over the last 18 months to hold onto the concession at Tigertail. In 2019, he protested a bid process that saw an award of that contract to another individual with little or no experience in operating a beach concession. That request for bids was dismissed and a new tender was rebid. That found Smith winning the most recent tender, as only one other bidder submitted a proposal, but was dismissed for a nonconforming submittal.
However, as is the case many times, the devil was in the details, and when it came down to the cost of doing business, he was faced with the unfortunate prospect of digging a hole for himself financially if he were to accept the county terms moving forward the next 5 years.
When Smith originally took over that contract, he was paying 12% of his gross proceeds to the county, along with a $500 minimum to be paid to the county. 10 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 would equal a 53.84% increase. To add insult to injury, they were now asking for a $2000 minimum versus the old $500 minimum, which calculates at a 300% increase and the numbers just didn’t add up.
Barry Williams, Director of Parks and Recreation for Collier County, commented that contracts with vendors “vary according to locations and customer desires.” They operate beach locations at Vanderbilt, Clam Pass, Barefoot Beach and of course Tigertail Beach. The operation at Tigertail mirrors many of those others within the county.
When questioned whether 20% of sales and $2000 minimums were the norm, Williams responded it was. “That has become our going rate for beach vendors in the new contracts that have come up over the years,” said Williams. He went onto explain the contract with Clam Pass is somewhat different due to the relationship with the Naples Grande Hotel and their operation of a shuttle tram which transports beachgoers from remote parking areas and the sale of alcohol from the concession they operate.
When asked whether or not some adjustment could be made due to the unique nature of the venue at Tigertail, Williams responded as follows: “We go by the amount of traffic, and Tigertail is one of our highest visitation sites in terms of potential customers. We know it has always been an issue when people find it’s not the light, white, fluffy sand. This last weekend it was one of the beach parks that reached capacity. It is not the same kind of beach as Vanderbilt or Barefoot, but it does get high visitation.”
When pressed as to whether the attraction there might have less to do with the beach than the concessionaire, Williams praised Smith for doing such a good job as he commented, “Tony has done a great job there and he is such a nice character. When people think of Tigertail Beach, they think of Tony, and I get that. For the most part, people come there as tourist and they get a wonderful experience with him, he adds to that experience, he is just such a pleasant man.”
Williams goes on in the interview to explain that the last contract was 10 years ago and cites that as the reason for the jump in the increases Smith would be paying under the new contract.
When we inquired of Smith regarding this, he simply commented: “We just couldn’t take that deal, it was a loser for my family who have given so much to this effort,” said Smith, explaining why he was walking away. “There was nothing here on the beachside when we began. We built the hut to get our people out of the sun and provide a decent work environment for them. Storage racks and boxes for all the equipment was at our expense.
“Then the county came to us when their vendor for the Beach Café walked away and the county asked us to take it over. We went into debt to revitalize that operation and pull down only a minimum return for our investment, recognizing the fact that the café would enhance the experience the beachgoers would have.”
Smith also commented about the devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma and Irma, and the effort which was put forward by his family and personnel to rebuild both their facilities and those that belonged to the county. Combine that with the increased insurance requirements being dictated under the new contract and you don’t have to be a math major to see the issue he was dealing with.
“We’ve had a long relationship with him, and we like him. Understand he is making a business decision as to what he has to do, and we wish him well,” concluded Williams.
As for Tony Smith, he concluded with: “The most important thing in the world is my family. They have been as much a part of this success as I’ve been and we all really wish we weren’t faced with having to make this decision. It’s a sad day for us, but we’ll move on, and we are so appreciative of the support the community has given to us. It means the world to us all.”