In the latest issue of Clearwater Beach Neighborhood Newsletter, Publisher Bob Griffin spent some time with Sheraton Sand Key’s head concierge Charlie Creel.
Concierges provide information and services to business visitors and tourists, and are usually found only in larger hotels. Twelve hotels in Clearwater Beach, ranging in size from 100 to over 450 rooms, have a designated concierge.
Charlie Creel (age 64), has worked in the lobby of the Sheraton Sand Key for 40 years. He is the longest serving concierge on the beach and only Sheraton manager Russ Kimball and Sous Chef Stefan Kugler have been with the hotel longer.
Creel began working at the Sheraton in November of 1976. As a long time Pinellas resident, having lived in Indian Rocks and Largo, he knows the area well.
“When I came to the Sheraton, Sand Key was almost deserted,” Creel remembers. “The lot to the south was vacant. There were some low-rise Condominiums (Bayside Gardens) to the south and the South Beach Condos on the west side. Next door to that was a restaurant / bar. The Isle of Sand Key condo was the southernmost building. We had the “Sky Lounge” nightclub with live music on the ninth floor of our hotel, occupying the space where Sheraton Fitness and Sheraton Club is now.
“Charlie Cheezem started building a few high rise condos south of here and Sand Key development took off. Then came the Coast Guard Station, Shoppes of Sand Key and The Marriott.”
“When the hotel first opened, we had very little beach. Our original postcard shows barely enough room to park two Hobie Cats,” Creel remembers. “Over time, sand just started accumulating behind the hotel when the Clearwater Pass jetties were added. Today, we have about 13 acres of beach.”
“I started as a bellman,” Creel explains, “After about 5 years, I was in charge of all the bellmen. There was no full-time concierge then. We all talked to the guests and answered their questions as best we could.”
“Back then, suitcases didn’t have wheels so a lot more people used bellmen.” says Creel.
He works 40-48 hours per week – and loves it. “I have fun every day. We will do almost anything for our guests, as long as it is legal, moral and humanly capable,” says Creel with a laugh. “Our primary requests are for entertainment, food and transportation.”
Guests always ask about things they can do. That might include: the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Busch Gardens, Disney World and others. Everyone looks for restaurants information, too. They want to know how far away they are and what is on their menus. Many need rental car, taxi, Uber, or Beach Trolley information. Most need transportation to the airport. Occasionally, guests have medical needs and look for walk-in clinics, hospitals and pharmacies.
What has been Creel’s most unusual request? “One time, a newly-wed was here on a business trip and lost his wedding ring in the sand,” Creel recalls. “I had to call in a guy with a metal detector – who found it. The guest was so happy also and off the hook with his new wife!”
The hotel is famous for a visit from Jim Baker and his well known affair. “I remember when Jim Baker stayed in one of our rooms. The news about the affair came out a year later. I heard about it when I came to work, because we received dozens of calls from radio stations around the country who wanted to interview anyone who answered the phone. After that, we kept having visitors steal the room number plate off the door. People still ask for that room by name and number.”
Creel oversees a department of twelve employees. All of them are men. “Women seem to have little interest in the bellman job here, although I have had women in the bell position before. We have had many women concierges. Other Clearwater Beach hotels have a few women working at their desks, but not many. Today, my employees are 20% bellman and 80% concierges.”
Many local concierges first started at the Sheraton, working for Creel then have gone on to work at other beach hotels. “Charlie gave me my first job when I moved to Florida,” says Gary Hidu, now concierge at Clearwater Beach’s Regency Hyatt.“ Charlie is a fixture on the beach. People come into the Sheraton and ask for him by name. He is a very fair and likeable boss. He sponsored me into Bay Area Concierge Association (BACA); now I am President.” Gary has been at the Hyatt Regency since it opened in 2010.
Creel has won his share of awards and recognition in his industry. He is a member of the prestigious Les Clef d’Or USA International Union of Concierges. He is past president of BACA, and has served in numerous board positions. He was the Guest Services Employee-of-the-Year in 2005 by the Florida Hotel and Motel Association and received the Iris D. Larson Hospitality Award in 2005 for his excellence in hospitality service by Visit Florida, which was presented to him at the annual State Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
“Over the past 40 years, Charlie has been Sand Key’s Ambassador—welcoming back our guests, families and meeting attendees to the Sheraton,” says Russ Kimball, Manager of the Sheraton Sand Key. “As Director of Concierges, he provides the friendliness needed to create our Clearwater Beach vacation experience.”
So, if you want to see what a concierge does, drop by the lobby of the Sheraton Sand Key and just watch.