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Capt. Marian Schneider closing Grande Tours

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Capt. Marian Schneider, an ecotourism pioneer at Grande Tours in Placida, poses out behind Grande Tours with her dog Nemo.   (Staff photo by  Rachel S. O'Hara)

Capt. Marian Schneider, an ecotourism pioneer at Grande Tours in Placida, poses out behind Grande Tours with her dog Nemo. (Staff photo by Rachel S. O'Hara)

PLACIDA -- When Marian Schneider talks about closing Grande Tours — her business and baby for the last 26 years — she's crying one minute and laughing the next.

She's also being interrupted by a steady stream of people.

Englewood kayakers want to stop and shake her hand. Placida neighbors want to wish her well. Old friends want to ask how she's holding up.

"It's been two years in the making, but in reality ...," Schneider says, choking back tears. "We've got eight days."

Saturday will be the last day Grande Tours is open for business. Next weekend will be the going-out-of-business sale for kayaks, paddles, preservers and everything else.

Everything must go. Cash only. All sales final.

"Isn't that funny?" she asks. "One big garage sale."

Schneider, 70, sits beside Coral Creek in sneakers, blue jean shorts and a plaid shirt with a notebook in the pocket. She talks about spending more time at her house in the mountains of north Georgia.

In Placida, she can't help but think about her legacy in Gulf Coast ecotourism. That's one reason why, in the end, she's closing her business rather than selling it.

That's also why she prefers the title of Captain, as in Capt. Schneider or Capt. Marian.

"It's me," she says. "That's my title. That's what everybody calls me."

Childhood dream

Marian Schneider at age 11, shows off a 125-pound tarpon she caught while fishing with her father in Boca Grande.  The photo is one of Schneider's prized possessions. (Herald-Tribune archive)

Marian Schneider at age 11, shows off a 125-pound tarpon she caught while fishing with her father in Boca Grande. The photo is one of Schneider's prized possessions.
(Herald-Tribune archive)

Capt. Marian grew up on Gasparilla Island.

She likes to say she had her first boat before she had her first bike.

She left the Gulf Coast to attend the University of Miami, where she studied medical technology. She worked in health care for 20 years, including two as a volunteer in Africa.

In 1989, Schneider returned to the Gulf Coast. She fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming a licensed captain and joining the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association.

She bought a 40-passenger boat and opened Grande Tours. She began renting kayaks and leading tours on Coral Creek.

Was it a success right away?

"Nooo," she says, laughing. "I was wondering where the groceries were coming from. It took me about three years, thinking maybe I could make a living at this. I'll tell you right up front, though, it wasn't luck. I worked hard."

Passionate guide

sMARIAN30Lorah Steiner, director of tourism for Charlotte County, met Schneider three years ago.

"When I first came here, she took me on a half-day tour, with her talking about the history of Charlotte Harbor and ecosystem of Charlotte Harbor," Steiner says. "I was so impressed by her passion, her absolute passion for Charlotte Harbor."

Over the years, on and off the water, Schneider has been less of a diplomat and more of a driving force. She wasn't always liked, but she was always respected.

"When you're passionate about an issue, you're going to rub people the wrong way," Steiner says. "She's been a warrior for environmental issues here."

Al Hurxthal, general manager of Economy Tackle in Sarasota, has worked with Schneider for nearly 20 years. They sealed their first deal with a handshake and never looked back.

"I just got a good sense of her and it stuck," he says. "She was really ahead of her time in ecotourism. She made it happen. She had a vision. She was always thinking, always coming up with a new direction."

Hurxthal laughs at the idea of Schneider, who's not very retiring, actually retiring. Who knows what she might do?

"It'll be interested to see her in five years," he says. "She's not one to just sit in her house in north Georgia."

Capt. Marian and Nemo

At Grande Tours, Schneider and a few longtime employees are closing up shop. The staff includes her dog, a Maltese named Nemo.

"He's the official greeter," she says. "He's going to be retiring with me."

They plan on spending more time in Georgia.

"Just don't call me a snowbird," she jokes. "I'm going up in January for the first time. It may be two days, it may be two months. The good part is that it doesn't matter."

Schneider says she feels good about the end of Grande Tours. In closing, she's following the same spirit that told her to open the business.

Grande Tours will be missed. That feels good, too.

"So many people are sad," she says. "I'm getting cards from people I don't even know."

 

Last modified: January 9, 2014
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