Community Spotlight: Queen of the Village

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Melissa Gerber has seen it all from her perch at Gilligan’s

Q: Melissa, you’ve been an employee at Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill for about 20 years — almost the length of its existence. What are your roles and what about the place contributes to your longevity?
A: It’s funny to hear that. It makes me realize that I have been here half of my life.
I wear quite a few hats here. I’m a full-time manager, server, bartender, trainer, and also the events coordinator. I handle all of the receptions, birthdays, corporate events, and holiday parties that we host here at Gilligan’s.

Melissa Gerber at Gilligan’s, her home away from home. (submitted photo)

Why have I stayed as long as I have?
Easy, I love this place. I love my bosses and I love my customers. I work for the best guys — I love them like family. It says a lot about a company when your employees have stayed as long as ours have. I have been here forever, but our daytime bartender Chrissy has been here longer than I have. I have other bartenders that have been here for 10-plus years. I think management can make or break your company and I have had the opportunity to learn and be a part of a great team all these years and it shows.
Gilligan’s is honestly my second home. Anyone that walks in our door is treated the same way I would treat them in my own house. I love the people I work with and our customers are amazing. Our locals are hands-down the best people in the world! I literally get to hang out with people who are on vacation all day. If you live here, we’ll pretend you’re on vacation, even if it’s for a beer or two. I listen to the best music, I sing, dance, serve some food and enjoy amazing conversations. Why would I leave? I’m a people person! I love meeting new people, finding out where they are from and learning about their lives. I have honestly met some of the most amazing people over the years that I have been here. People from all walks of life, on all different journeys, from all over the world. The opportunities I have had and the friendships that I have been so blessed to have made, that’s what keeps me here.
Let’s be honest, we all have our days, but I still love going to work. How many people say that?! Just like the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Now, come spring break I’ll question that theory a bit, but I still keep coming back with a smile on my face.

Q: Last year, you won the Shining Star award from the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. What did that mean to you and why do you think you received that honor?
A: That was such an honor. I’m going to be honest — I have no idea why I received it. I didn’t think my name was even on the radar, but surprise … there I was.
I don’t think the things I do need recognition. I get my fill with making people happy and having them come back every year.
Really, I promote local businesses because they are worth talking about, I love what they are doing, or I personally purchase their products. I know most of the owners or their employees personally and they are such wonderful people that I want others to know them too. I volunteer my time, because I find it personally fulfilling to help others. I’m so blessed, it’s my way of giving back. I think energy is contagious in all forms and if I can spread kindness, why not?
Really, there are probably so many people deserving of this award, but the fact that I was nominated for it and won it, Holy Cow, what an absolute honor! I’m so grateful and thankful for those who nominated me and thought I was deserving of it. I truly hope I continue living up to its title.

Q: Tell us about your history with Siesta Key.
A: I could write a book on all that I have seen in my years here. I was born and raised in Sarasota. I was originally managing an Amish restaurant in Gulf Gate. I had a server that worked at Gilligan’s tell me that I should come and apply for a serving position there. The company I worked for was being sold and I was looking for a new opportunity, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I love the beach, it’s my happy place, so it seemed like a win-win.
I was hired on the spot, but talk about a culture shock from what I was used to. For those who have been around as long as I have, you know the Key was much different 20 years ago. The Village was the spot to go to. If you were going out, you would dress to the nines, slinky dress, stilettos, guys in dress shirts, and you go to the island. It was Sarasota nightlife, as downtown wasn’t as established as it is now and there were only a few bars like Margarita Maggies and Gator Club. But Siesta Key was the hotspot. It was sexy and exciting. We had a DJ every night, girls on the bar top and the best bands around.
A little walk down memory lane: I know this will trigger a few memories for all the locals reading this, but to give you an idea once upon a time Siesta Fiesta wasn’t just a craft show like it is now. It was an entire music venue with beer tubs and bands all along the street. The streets were lined with artwork and the smell of food — a total block party. People would come down and stay just to party that weekend. It was such an event. The streets would buzz from morning to the wee hours of the night.
If you know, you know. We were really a diamond in the rough back then. At the time, we were generationally introduced by the condo owners of the past. How did you hear about Siesta? Your grandparents owned a condo at Peppertree Bay and your family vacationed there. So, you waited and counted the years until you were 21 and got to go down there to visit them for spring break. Laying on the white sand, baking in the sun just to finish the night in The Village dancing and stumbling back to the condo, desperately trying not to wake up your grandparents at 3 a.m. I mean, that was a standard story back then. That’s how the island was discovered before social media. You literally stumbled upon it by accident because you missed the Lido exit. Or you knew a guy, who knew a guy, whose grandparents owned a condo on Midnight Pass.
History … I have so much of it here. I met my husband at Gilligan’s — he was a security guard here just after I started. I had two amazing sons while working here, running around big-bellied pregnant pouring drinks.
Fun fact: Half of the clientele I have now I met my first day out there. How cool is that? I mean it really is amazing. I have shared my life with this Island. I have some of the most wonderful memories on this beach, in this Village.
My oldest son is working here now. He gets embarrassed when people talk about how they knew him when he was in my belly, but I know he loves it. I love the look on people’s face when I tell them that he’s mine. You can see the years of memories fill their head and put a smile on their face in disbelief that he’s now 16.
I mean this is literally what this Village is — it’s a family. We come together for hurricane relief, military events, fundraisers for people of our community, charity events, and more. I have been a part of some of the most exciting moments in people’s lives. We have laughed together, cried together,
cheered each other on. This is what makes our community so special. It’s the history here — not just my history, but the people. It’s beautiful. I’m so blessed to be able to have shared so many years here.

Gerber and Gilligan’s general manager Mike Gatz working a fundraiser. (submitted photo)

Q: You’ve watched the Village change during your time working there. How is it better and/or worse in your opinion?
A: I guess neither, just different. I think everything goes through stages, evolving with the times — the people, the economy, etc.
When we received the No. 1 beach award, it really changed the island. In my eyes, that’s what put us on the map as a family destination. Now the whole world knows how wonderful our little island is. Siesta, like everything else, has evolved. We have expanded for new businesses and new opportunities. We have welcomed new residents to our community. We have been blessed as a business to open our door to thousands of people who now get to experience what we have had the opportunity to enjoy all these years.
We are very fortunate to have experienced all the changes that have taken place over the years and be a part of its development. So, if anything, not for better or worse, it’s just different. If I had to choose one or the other, I would say traffic is definitely worse. Parking was always terrible so that hasn’t changed much and I really don’t see it getting any better with expansion.
Food has definitely gotten better all along the island, both north and south sides. And our beach is still picture-perfect after all these years.

Q: And what is your vision of the Village 20 years from now?
A: This is a tough one for me. I hope it’s the same. Maybe more parking. Flying cars would be cool too — I’m still waiting on those!
But if you want me to be honest, I think it’s going to be like Clearwater Beach or like a mini-Miami. Super congested and over-populated. Money talks and there’s a lot of it around here.
I think we have worked really hard all these years to keep Siesta in its true form as a simple beach community, but I’m a realist and eventually the people standing in the way of business, trying to keep it small, will be bought out or forced out by bigger voices and deeper pockets. This town, like every other beach town, will be sold to the top buyer making way for commercialization.
Big hotels will begin to appear, with an influx of people and corporations, and the island will become packed like a can of sardines. Let’s be real, it’s already happening. The average beer will cost you $17 and all the small local businesses that call this place home will be bought out by bigger companies looking to maximize profit from the location.
It’s a shame. I really pray that it doesn’t happen. I really hope that in another 20 years I’ll be able to say that the Key is just a little “different” than 20 years before.
I guess only time will tell. We’ll need to do this again so we can reference back and see how it goes.

Gerber and Siesta Sand publisher Brion Palmer as she receives the Shining Star Award from the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. (photo by John Morton)
John Morton
Author: John Morton

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