April 24, 2019

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press 
Conch Republic Divers owners Brenda and Gary Mace say their Tavernier scuba business built a loyal following by welcoming divers as friends.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press  Conch Republic Divers owners Brenda and Gary Mace say their Tavernier scuba business built a loyal following by welcoming divers as friends.

TAVERNIER — “Divers have said we’re like the ‘Cheers’ bar,” said Conch Republic Divers co-owner Brenda Mace. “We seem to know everybody’s name.”

That welcoming reputation has helped the Tavernier scuba dive shop, founded in 1987 and acquired by Gary and Brenda Mace 16 years ago, to keep going strong.

“We tell people that we’re not really in the dive business — we’re in the memory business,” Gary said. “We want to make sure the customer has a good experience.”

Floyd Dickson of Toronto pulled up to the shop dock at Tavernier Creek Marina with a load of 14 dive tanks that needed air refills.

“These guys have the best staff we’ve ever seen. They’re always super friendly,” Dickson said. “The location is convenient, and we know that if we need a piece of gear, they’ll have it.”

Senior captain, master dive instructor and gear-repair expert Jasen Murray heads a rotating staff of around 10 dive instructors, guides and boat crew.

Conch Republic Divers ranks among scuba businesses certified by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as a Blue Star operation, providing information to visiting divers about protecting the underwater environment.

“The reef is our life,” Gary said. “People don’t come down to see a messed-up reef, so we want to preserve it so it doesn’t get messed up.”

From the marina location at mile marker 90.8, Conch Republic’s two dive boats — the Republic Diver, a 46-foot Newton, and the Aquatic Diver, a 30-foot Island Hopper — can head out to more than 100 reef and shipwreck sites from Key Largo to Islamorada. Advanced technical dives can be scheduled.

“We get along really well with most of the other dive shops here. It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Brenda said. “If we’re fully booked or can’t go out for some reason, we’ll try to help divers find a spot on another boat. They do the same.

“We don’t feel like we’re competing against other Keys dive shops. We just want people to have a good time in the Keys so they come back here instead of going to some other destination.”

Brenda and Gary Mace both worked as high-tech engineers in Texas before a business downturn convinced them to head for the Keys, where they lived aboard a 41-foot Morgan sailboat.

They negotiated to buy a Key Largo marina “but that didn’t work out,” Brenda said. “Then this came along. For the first two years, I never worked so hard in my life.”

The Maces “had dived all over the world,” Gary said. “We saw what worked for divers and what we don’t want to do.”

A good attitude pays dividends, Brenda said. “We tell everybody who answers our phones that callers should be able to hear a smile coming over the phone. People can tell.”

For more information on scheduling trips or dive classes, call 305-852-1655 or visit conchrepublicdivers.com.

kwadlow@keysnews.com