The fabric of Fifth Avenue South weaves through the history of Naples and looms over the city’s future. Fifth Avenue is a popular destination, but it’s also an ever-changing journey. It’s not a static place that marks time, but instead stands the test of time while still creating anticipation for what is yet to come.
“We embrace the new and appreciate the old,” says Vicki Tracy, chief operating officer for Gulf Coast International Properties, a luxury real estate business that has an office on Fifth— its nontraditional space with an open lobby once was a clothing store. “Fifth Avenue is the heart and soul of this community. The whole vibe of Fifth Avenue is the heart of Naples.”
Exposure on the avenue has changed the way the local firm does business, Tracy said, creating a casual elegance that attracts diversity with young professionals and visitors from around the world. She enjoys seeing people waving to each other across the street, neighbors greeting neighbors as they walk to get coffee or dine out.
“I feel like it’s a Mayberry on steroids,” she says. “There is, in my opinion, no better place to be for this type of business than on Fifth Avenue. We are so honored and blessed to be here. We love it.”
Today, we salute Tracy and many other women on Fifth Avenue South who help form the fabric of the city’s main street. Historically, women here have led by example and made a difference in forging ahead, often upending Southern stereotypes along the way.
“Many women impacted Fifth Avenue; all these really cool women who believed in empowering other women,” Tracy says. “This town has totally changed from what it was. There are some amazing women in this town and on Fifth Avenue. I think the attitudes are changing, and I credit those people who came before us and pushed and shoved.”
Paving the way were powerful local women such as Mamie Tooke, the Bank of Naples leader often thought of as the mother of Naples, and Doris Reynolds, the former city historian who was the first executive secretary and managing director of the Naples Chamber of Commerce. Just a year ago, Theresa Heitman was elected mayor of Naples with a campaign slogan encouraging “time for a change.”
The women featured in this issue of Gulfshore Business are important leaders in operating local businesses. Meeting them should encourage you to get to know more about the people behind the storefronts of Fifth’s art galleries, restaurants, retail shops and other establishments.
These faces are a small slice of an avenue of which you’ll be more excited to walk up one side and down the other for a chance encounter with the personalities who enliven it on a daily basis. Downtown Naples still has that small-town feel on the Gulf. While it’s not actually a fishing village anymore, its current sophistication doesn’t mask a down-to-earth environment that still prevails.
“We are delighted to honor these top business owners and entrepreneurs across a range of industries along our historic main street,” says Bruce Barone Jr., executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District. “Each of these women is doing tremendous work and making a significant impact in growing and sustaining our community. Their contributions will be felt throughout the Naples area in both the short and long term.”
Jerri Hoffmann strolls the city’s walkable main street as often as she can. “I can’t even tell you how much I love Fifth Avenue South,” she says. “It’s got a personality, for sure. I love the cachet of Fifth Avenue. I love the excitement of being down there.” Occupying a front-row seat on Fifth through the Hoffmann Family of Companies, Hoffmann hopes the sense of community and friendliness in Naples never changes. “It’s such a wonderful place to live. It’s very accepting,” she says.
Jerri and David Hoffmann have made a significant investment and a lasting impact on Fifth Avenue South in recent years. They have noticeably changed the aesthetic and energy of the street with their numerous bright buildings and distinctive statues. “We have a hefty investment in Naples. It’s home for us,” Hoffmann says.
The Hoffmanns know firsthand about the demand for Fifth Avenue addresses. Their commercial spaces have an extensive waiting list for tenants.
Madelene Columbus also attests to the popularity of Fifth Avenue addresses. As president of Hoffmann Executive Suites, she manages scores of shared professional offices and more than 100 virtual office clients in three buildings on Fifth.
“People refer to Naples as a bubble for a reason,” Columbus says. “I’ve lived in lots of places, and there is no place like this. And I hope it stays that way.”
Columbus has worked in places such as Bal Harbour, Beverly Hills, Scottsdale and Vancouver, so she has seen a lot of high-end, luxury living and environments. “The thing that I like about Naples is that it’s very friendly. I find that even though there are people here from many different places, it’s a welcoming environment,” she says. “It’s absolutely beautiful, but it’s very approachable. Even in the art galleries and the jewelry shops and the high-end boutiques here, I think that people still value that kind of neighborhood feel—and it has a charm to it that other places have kind of lost, I think.”
The walkability of Fifth Avenue South directly contributes to its convivial atmosphere and thriving business, said Martha Schaub, art gallery director of Native Visions Galleries on Fifth. “I like Fifth Avenue because it isn’t overblown or so precious that people don’t want to walk down it. It’s easy to shop on, and most of the business owners would certainly welcome everyone in,” Schaub says.
“The fact that we have restaurants nearby and hotels and easy parking, all of that contributes to the success of the gallery.”
Marlissa Gardner, the founder and owner of Emillions Art, views her gallery as a hidden gem on an avenue that is a known gem, a special place with brilliant people and real value. “Fifth Avenue is in and of itself a brand. People are attracted to come here. They want to be here,” she says.
Gardner had visited Naples since the late ’70s before opening her showroom on Fifth Avenue a few years ago. Naples was a second home to her where she could drop in and be comfortable. “When you decide to live here, you feel like you belong,” she says.
For the most part, people who live in the Naples area are transplants who have chosen to be here. This, of course, means they want to be here because they like living and working here. Fifth Avenue is the epicenter for both newcomers and old-timers.
“This is the paradise. I live here. This is my home,” says Francesca Neri, who co-owns and operates Molto Trattoria and La Pescheria restaurants on what she refers to as the slower end of Fifth, away from U.S. 41 but still in the middle of people.
Neri has the choice to be in her native Italy or anywhere else in the world, but she has chosen to be in Naples, Florida, after discovering it by chance while on vacation more than a decade ago. It was a dream come true for her family. “Honestly, this is the deal, Fifth Avenue. I think one of the main reasons we are successful is because we are here, Fifth Avenue. Everybody comes here. Everybody likes to stroll down the avenue. It’s so beautiful, well-kept and clean. So, you definitely have more visibility.”
Stacie Carroll, manager of Peach Tree Designs, said her family is blessed to have a boutique for nearly 25 years on Naples’s best-known street. “Being on Fifth Avenue has been a blessing. We are just so grateful for our success and our location,” Carroll says.
Before opening their store on Fifth, her family looked at locations in Venetian Village and on Third Street South in Naples, as well as in Charleston, South Carolina. But they fell in love with Naples. “We hit Fifth Avenue right at the right time when it was blossoming again,” she says. “It’s changed a lot in more recent years.”
Redevelopment of the tony stretch continues to add more stores and top-quality restaurants. “When we moved here, all the activity was at the beginning of Fifth Avenue. That was where all the restaurants were and the foot traffic. We were on the quieter end.”
Although Peach Tree Designs has many word-of-mouth referrals and loyal customers from repeat business, Carroll estimates that about 50% of their customers happen upon them while strolling Fifth. “This is a destination place to bring out-of-towners,” she says.
Even after walking on the beach, people can still feel comfortable stepping into stores on Fifth Avenue South, said Monica Cabada, an accredited jeweler and sales professional at Provident Jeweler, which has stores on either side of Fifth.
“There’s not really anywhere else where you have all of these types of shops on a strip that ends up on the beach. It’s kind of cool,” says Cabada, who grew up in Naples and savors the palm-lined avenue with its coastal vibe. “Fifth Avenue is like the heart because the first stoplight in town was here. I feel like that charm is still on Fifth.”
Although Cabada thinks Naples is changing, she says it’s changing for the better, retaining its casual charm. “I’m curious to see how it’s going to play itself out and unfold. I’m optimistic.”
Provident Jewelry accredited jeweler
An accredited jeweler and sales professional, Monica Cabada has worked for three years at Provident Jewelry, which has stores on both the north and south sides of Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples. The family-owned jeweler has had stores in downtown Naples for 12 years after starting on Florida’s east coast 26 years ago. The business has seven stores in Florida that specialize in buying and selling estate jewelry, certified diamonds and new and pre-owned fine timepieces. It also re-mounts classic gems, and services and repairs timepieces and jewelry.
The store’s front window displays on Fifth also are designed by Cabada, who tries to catch the eye of passersby with luxurious jewelry and watches. “I do all of the visual merchandising,” she says. “I was in luxury sales for 11 years before coming to Provident.”
Cabada also is an aesthetician and makeup artist, so she hopes she can have a makeup chair if Provident incorporates a Dream Factory into one of its Naples stores. “I kind of run my own business inside another business,” she says.
Cabada’s entrepreneurial spirit, product knowledge and sincere interest in assisting others with emotionally driven purchases make for a fulfilling career.
“I definitely hope that I’m here until I retire, because I’m very thankful I get to work every day with materials that I really find interesting,” she says. “Being in customer service, I like just getting to know people, helping them out with their pieces, adding to their collection.”
Cabada grew up in Naples and is a graduate of Naples High School. Relocating here from Nassau, Bahamas, when she was 5, she and her parents became American citizens when she was 8. Recently engaged, her Provident engagement ring—created in the early 1900s by Raymond Yard, who designed jewelry for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and du Ponts—is an example of Cabada’s love and fascination with investing in historical jewelry and timepieces.
Provident Jewelry, 555 Fifth Ave. S., Suite 101, Naples, 239.649.7737, ProvidentJewelry.com
Provident Jewelry, 766 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.649.7200, ProvidentJewelry.com
Peach Tree Designs manager
Although she earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Stacie Carroll found a home with family at Peach Tree Designs on Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples.
The eclectic boutique is a treasure trove for home décor with furniture, artwork, lighting, mirrors and other home accessories. Inventory has adapted with the addition of gifts, jewelry, scarves and other smaller items that complement the store’s overall look and design.
“Every piece that’s on our showroom floor is so thought out for its placement,” Carroll says. “We labor over artwork; where we’re going to hang it, how we are going to decorate around it and make these vignettes.”
The store has a coastal-leaning theme that celebrates her family’s roots in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as well as their adopted home in Naples, selling items that no one else carries because they don’t follow trends. Customers often tell them they have their favorite store in Naples. “Customers come to us because they know our look,” Carroll says.
Carroll’s mother, Judy Collins, has a fashion design background and started the store’s concept with a wholesale business out of their Cape Cod garage when Stacie was still in grade school. The first store was launched in 1981, Stacie’s father joined the family business in 1987, then they opened the Fifth Avenue store in 1997.
At age 9, Carroll’s daughter Charlie Ann already seems destined to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother to be the family’s third generation with a passion for the business. It’s a natural progression that Carroll knows something about.
“I’ve always grown up with my mom as a female business owner,” she says.
“She’s been a big influence. I’ve seen her succeed.” And most importantly, perhaps, Carroll and her mother get along well working together. “We’re very close,” Judy Collins says.
That closeness extends to the store’s staff, who are considered a major extension of the family. They have fun hanging out together, Carroll said. “It’s just a pleasure to come to work. My job doesn’t feel like a job.”
Peach Tree Designs, 407 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.643.4202, PeachTreeDesigns.com
Culinary Concepts director of internal operations
Starting as a server when Yabba Island Grill opened in 2000, Jennifer Castellani has been with the restaurant company on Fifth Avenue South for more than 20 years. Castellani was in on the ground floor for the creation of Culinary Concepts, a local restaurant group that includes three properties on Fifth: Chops City Grill, Pazzo! Cucina Italiana and Yabba; as well as The Saloon and Chops in south Lee County. The group’s oldest restaurant, Pazzo, celebrated its 25th anniversary last fall.
It was Castellani’s idea to establish human resources for the growing company and bring marketing duties in-house. “Now we do everything in-house ourselves. We have our accounting and accounts payable and accounts receivable,” she says. As director of internal operations, Castellani is responsible for ensuring that corporate rules, policies and standards are set and met by the group’s 400 employees. “The joke around here is that I’m director of everything. I oversee human resources, the marketing, our charity work, advertising. I do a little bit of everything.” That even included recently ironing tablecloths on a day when her team was short-staffed.
Even though the local restaurants grew into Culinary Concepts with more corporate trappings, the restaurant group still functions as a mom-and-pop business with a team that is considered family. “I love the restaurant industry,” Castellani says. “There’s nothing else I would do in a million years. It’s exciting. And I’m happy to be on Fifth.”
Born in Jamaica, Castellani moved to Naples with her family when she was in her freshman year at Barron Collier High School. After attending the University of Central Florida, she returned to Naples, which she says she loves. “Naples is easy living. It’s simple. It’s great. We have great shopping; we have great restaurants; we have everything a big city has without the big city problems. It’s beautiful here.”
Culinary Concepts corporate office, 837 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.435- 0990, gr8food.net
Chops City Grill, 837 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.262.4677, ChopsCityGrill.com
Pazzo! Italiana Cucina, 853 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.434.8494, PazzoItalianCafe.com
Yabba Island Grill, 711 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.262.5787, YabbaIslandGrill.com
Hoffmann Executive Suites president
Hoffmann Executive Suites provides a prestigious address and offices with receptionists on Fifth Avenue South for many types of businesses. “Everything from attorneys to entrepreneurs to wealth management people, marketing, real estate, of course,” says Madelene Columbus, president of the enterprise that manages scores of offices in three buildings on Fifth Avenue South. They include private offices and open, shared areas such as large conference rooms and a space called the Think Tank. “Virtual clients can just come and drop in and have casual meetings and things like that,” Columbus says. “We have everything from a small, individual, personal private office to large suites with companies that have several offices in them.”
The business has been immensely popular and fully occupied, because people are changing the way that they work, according to Columbus. “It’s a nice, safe environment for people to come in and work,” she says. “Most people take them on an annual basis— or even three years now—because we have such limited availability and such high demand. It’s a good place to be.”
Columbus has worked for the Hoffmanns since July 2017. Her role has changed dramatically over the last couple of years, in addition to running the flourishing Executive Suites office business. “They opened a business in Avon, Colorado, so I have 20 office suites there,” she says. “But we have had very high occupancy, so it gave me time to do other things.”
When the Hoffmanns acquired Hertz Arena last year, Columbus was tapped to oversee renovations of its VIP suites, as well as renovation of its Breakaway restaurant and pub. “We try to create a very comfortable yet upscale and very luxurious environment,” she says.
Columbus was born in New York and went to college at Arizona State. Her background is luxury retail, and she was a director for Louis Vuitton and a senior merchandise manager for Bloomingdale’s for the East Coast. “I love to travel and being around different people and different cultures and different ways of living,” she says. Being in Naples for five years is the longest Columbus has been in one place for a while, but she is comfortable here. “I feel at home,” she says.
Hoffmann Executive Suites, 365 Fifth Ave. N., Suite 201, Naples, 239.316-9445, HoffmannExecutiveSuites.com
Emillions Art founder
Before starting Emillions Art in 2014, Marlissa Gardner owned her own film production company and worked as a director and producer. “I was taught since I was young to go after my passion, and that’s exactly what I did,” Gardner says. “Art has been a passion of mine since I was young. I traveled all over the world and my parents exposed us to all different kinds of art.”
Seeing the work of the masters at venues such as the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre and Westminster Abbey had an inspirational effect on the young entrepreneur, but it’s when she lived in Bombay, India, that she really developed a desire to be surrounded by art all the time. “It became a part of who I am,” she says.
Gardner found success connecting artists and collectors and buyers and sellers of art. She became a consultant in fine art asset management, and opened a showroom in downtown Naples three years ago after operating mostly online before then. She still has an auction platform and gallery online and hosts “Virtually Emillions Art,” a podcast series offering fresh takes on art.
In 2019, Emillions Art had about a dozen shows for all kinds of art categories, mediums and genres. The business has become a respected global resource for exploring and celebrating contemporary fine art, modern masters and old masters. Her art background and knowledge have fostered a network of enthusiastic collectors, esteemed professionals and returning clients, but Gardner believes that selling art is really about understanding people. She even participates in speaking engagements on art investment.
Gardener earned a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in broadcasting and film from Boston University. She was a member of the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and she started the Community Foundation of Greater Plymouth County, focused on education for at-risk youth in the Boston area. She strives to be a role model, especially for young women. “I hope that young women everywhere aspire to achieve their own goals and look inside themselves deep, and go after whatever they are passionate about,” she says.
Emillions Art, 837 Fifth Ave. S., Suite 202, Naples; 239.687.3101, EmillionsArt.com
Hoffmann Family of Companies
Jerri Hoffmann cherishes marrying her high school sweetheart 48 years ago. “Honestly, he’s the center of my universe. He always has been,” Jerri says of David Hoffmann, who founded St. Louis-based Osprey Capital and Hoffmann Commercial Real Estate, the largest landlord in the city of Naples.
Having grown up in the little town of Washington, Missouri—the corn-cob pipe capital of the world—Mrs. Hoffmann considers herself a small-town girl. Because she and her husband both have humble, Midwestern roots, she loves the small-town feel of Naples and Fifth Avenue South. In the early 1800s, her German ancestors opened one of the first general stores in her hometown, so she hails from a family with a long history of retail. “I think it’s part of my blood. It’s part of my DNA,” she says.
Riding shotgun, so to speak, Hoffmann has a front-row seat as the Hoffmann Family of Companies continues growing beyond 30 businesses, the majority of which are in Naples and Southwest Florida. The collection mostly focuses on the hospitality industry, with a synergy of local tourism and entertainment-related businesses: everything from cookies, coffee and gelato to Hertz Arena and the Florida Everblades hockey team. The corporate family includes transportation services, watersports, sightseeing tours and miniature golf.
The Hoffmanns’ goal of creating a “Disneyland for adults” sometimes is misinterpreted because Disneyland connotes different things to different people. The idea is to create a place where adults can enjoy a whole range of activities for a fun, uplifting experience, Hoffmann said. “It’s about a destination where you can have many different experiences doing many different things.”
Hoffmann has a sincere passion for philanthropy, especially children’s causes. She and her husband are trustees for the Naples Children’s Education Foundation (NCEF) and involved with Children’s Home & Aid in Chicago. She also is a Sustaining Leadership Council member for the Naples Botanical Garden, and involved in a wide range of philanthropic causes. “We feel very fortunate to be doing this kind of thing. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to support these,” she says.
Hoffmann Family of Companies, HoffmannFamilyOfCompanies.com
Molto Trattoria owner
Although she could live almost anywhere in the world, Francesca Neri chooses Naples, Florida.
The native of Italy and co-owner of Molto Trattoria and La Pescheria, two restaurants on Fifth Avenue South, Neri fell in love with Naples while on vacation in 2007. She immediately bought a condo here and ventured back and forth between Naples and her home in the center of Rome.
“I’m a citizen of the world,” Neri says. “I worked for Alitalia for many years as a cabin attendant, so I always had one foot here, one foot there for about eight years. I like to travel, like many other people, but you need to be brave to do what I did.”
She and her family settled here in Naples 11 years ago when she and her brother, Andrea Neri, opened Rosso-pomodoro, an authentic Italian pizzeria franchise, and imported a pizza oven and kitchen crew from Italy to Fifth Avenue South. They soon broke from the chain and changed the restaurant’s name to L’Angelo. Eventually selling their original restaurant, the Neris created Molto, an Italian trattoria, in 2014 and added an adjacent bar by expanding into the space next door two years ago. They launched their second business, a seafood restaurant, a block away in 2018.
Although it’s not necessary, Neri apologizes for her English, explaining that she speaks only Italian at home and with her restaurant team, whom she considers family. Managing two of many restaurants on Naples’ main stretch is rewarding but requires many hours of stress-inducing work daily, Neri said. “There is a lot, a lot of competition,” she says. “And that’s the reason my brother and I are here every single day. It’s a tough business, very hard.”
The Neris are recognized as successful entrepreneurs, overseeing every aspect of their business. “That makes me happy. That’s my job. It comes naturally,” she says. “This is something that fits me perfectly.”
Molto Trattoria, 368 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.261.5853, MoltoNaples.com
La Pescheria, 474 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.316.7322, LaPescheriaNaples.com
Native Visions Galleries gallery director
With more than 30 years’ experience in the fine art business, Martha Schaub has a wealth of knowledge to help clients find the perfect piece of art for any location. After spending many years in California, Schaub
relocated to Florida and has been gallery director since 2015 at Native Visions Galleries, which opened in Naples in the late ’90s. “I came out of the fashion world and when I got into the art world, I was the only person without experience,” she says. “But, if you put your mind to it, you can succeed. It just takes a couple of years to get started.”
Ross Parker, a native of Africa, started his first gallery in 1987 in Boca Raton. “So, we have a great connection with the African artists, which is mostly who we represent,” says Schaub, who notes that clients for Native Visions Galleries are everywhere. “We are known as one of the finest wildlife galleries in the world, so we have a great reputation.”
Because the premise for the gallery was African artists, it represents mostly African painters and stone sculptors. For instance, premier South African painter David Langmead is well known for his capture of light and realism from living in the bush near the animals. “That’s one reason our artists are well respected because the animals are really authentic looking. Many of the artists live where the animals live, to a certain degree,” Schaub says.
Langmead is one of the painters who comes to the United States periodically to do research, so he captures the Everglades and other areas around Florida. “We have a lot of clients from the Upper Midwest, and they have a whole different group of wildlife, different species—but they also, many of them, have been to Africa many times on photography jaunts and safaris,” Schaub says.
Native Visions Galleries, 737 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239.643.3785, NativeVisions.com
Gulf Coast International Properties chief operating officer
After graduating from college, Vicki Tracy visited her grandparents in Naples and decided she wasn’t going back to Detroit. “They don’t have snow here, and there’s a beach,” she says. “I couldn’t ever imagine not being here. I’ve been here ever since.” That was 45 years ago.
Since then, Tracy garnered extensive experience with prestigious startup firms and developments in Collier County, earned numerous personal and professional awards and is known especially for her civic involvement. She learned about philanthropy in an early role at the launch of Health Management Associates in the ’70s. “I saw these guys giving back all the time,” she says. “I saw how the community embraced people who were getting involved in the community, so I got involved.”
Tracy later became director of The Arlington, a multimillion-dollar retirement community, where she still consults and volunteers. For seven years, she has been chief operating officer of Gulf Coast International Properties (GCIP), which has one of its offices on Fifth Avenue South. “We do luxury here, so we meet a lot of unique people,” she says, noting that the fabric of Naples is comprised
of billionaires and working people. GCIP Principal Tim Savage encourages her to get involved in the community and give back, Tracy said. “When you have an owner who encourages you to do it and supports you to do it, that makes a big difference,” she says. “That’s the main reason that I’m here.”
Tracy particularly is passionate about causes helping senior citizens, veterans and children. They call her a connector. “So, that part of my life— helping any way I can when somebody calls me—I think that’s what makes the lifeblood of our town. I think it’s a privilege to live here, not a right.”
Gulf Coast International Properties, 691 Fifth Ave. S., 239.434.2558, GCIPNaples.com
BIDDING FOR SUCCESS
Jennifer Castellani, director of internal operations for a restaurant group behind three of the more than 30 restaurants on Fifth, remembers when Culinary Concepts owner Skip Quillen originated the idea for the avenue’s Business Improvement District. “He was the mastermind behind the BID and getting it going,” she says. Quillen publicly shared his vision for a unified Fifth Avenue business district during a Naples City Council meeting in August 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession. He was part of a steering committee that took the concept to each tenant and landlord, to explain the benefits of pooling resources. That would allow repositioning Fifth Avenue South to compete more effectively in the greater Naples market with a branding and marketing program to attract locals and visitors to rediscover the destination between Four Corners and the Gulf.
On Dec. 15, 2010, the City Council approved the final assessment resolution for the BID with
a majority of support from business owners, property owners, community residents and civic and community leaders. The collective branding effort created a sense of place with noticeable improvements such as landscaping and the coordinated promotion of activities, special events and street music. At the end of 2010, Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District Inc. filed with the Florida Department of State to become a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to growing and enhancing the disrict, promoting it as “THE destination of choice to live, work, shop, dine and play.”
“Naples will always have one main street,” says Castellani, “and that will be Fifth Avenue.”
Photo Credit: Getty; Samantha Bloom (3); Tina Sargeant; Charlie McDonald; Samantha Bloom (2)
Published: February 2021