The nicest guy in downtown Miami. A true gentleman. An incredible father.
Those who knew Tony Alonso had their own superlatives to describe the pioneering businessman who championed downtown Miami — and especially Flagler Street. His family-run store, La Epoca, has been a landmark of the area since the 1960s.
Now, it’s up the third generation of Alonsos to run the upscale department store.
Tony Alonso died Thursday in his Coral Gables home after fighting colon cancer for more than two years. He was 67.
Alonso was a longtime member of the Downtown Development Authority, sat on the Flagler Street Committee and spearheaded the building of West Kendall Baptist Hospital and sat on many Baptist boards.
Brian E. Keeley, president and CEO of Baptist Health South Florida, called Alonso one of Baptist’s “champions” and also a “friend.”
But above everything else, Alonso was “an incredible father,” said his son, Brian Alonso, the fourth of Tony Alonso’s six children.
“He instilled in us very early on a drive to succeed, and all of us have taken him up on it,” Brian Alonso said.
All six kids went on to top-tier schools and now work in politics, dentistry, banking, marketing and at the family store.
As they built their own lives, Tony Alonso never asked his kids to pitch in at La Epoca — but they did anyway.
In 2005, Randy Alonso, 28, the fifth of Tony Alonso’s kids, fell in love with retail culture while studying in London, and told his dad he’d join the family business as soon as he gradated from Duke University in 2006.
Around the same time, Brian Alonso, 33, took a break from his graduate studies at George Washington University to help his dad move La Epoca a short ways: from its previous location in the Alfred I. DuPont Building, to its current prominent spot at 200 E. Flagler St. — the site of the old Walgreens building.
“I was going to help him move the store, and I was going to get on my way,” Brian Alonso remembered. “I never left. I enjoyed it so much, getting to know the family business, getting to know the way he did things.”
That’s how the third generation of Alonso’s came to run La Epoca.
“My dad was happiest when he was at the store,” Randy Alonso remembered.
The store began in 1885 in Havana, Cuba, as a small fabric store that soon grew to be the third-largest department store on the island, according to the family. Fidel Castro’s government confiscated the store in 1960, and the family made its way to Miami.
They opened up again in 1965 in downtown Miami and grew the business once again. In 2005, La Epoca moved just a block from its original location to Flagler Street.
Along with a new location, Tony Alonso and his sons began offering higher-end clothing brands to meet the demand from the young, urban professionals beginning to flock to downtown. The move and the new stock were statements of Alonso’s faith in Miami’s struggling core downtown area, business leaders said.
“I would say he was perhaps the first retailer to have faith in where downtown was heading and its potential,” said Neisen Kasdin, vice chair of the DDA and Miami office managing shareholder of Akerman Senterfitt law firm.
Alyce Robertson, executive director of the DDA, remembered Alonso as a “true gentleman” who understood Miami’s back-story and took history into account when figuring out how to tackle current problems.
“He was the rudder for all of our dealings in righting the ship for the Downtown Development Authority,” Robertson said. “He gave us historical perspective, but he also was looking how to improve... he was also the voice for the street-level merchant.”
Alonso is survived by his wife, Jane; six children, Jane; Tony and wife Dania Melnick; Eric and wife Ariel Bender; Brian and wife Alexina Binnie; Randy; and Ashley and husband John Lavin; and his five granddaughters, Sienna, Kayla, and Juliana, Elizabeth and Evelyn Alonso.
Funeral services will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday. The wake will take place at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn, Westchester Chapel, at 8200 SW 40th St. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at The Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, at 174 E. Flagler St.
Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to West Kendall Baptist Hospital. Checks can be sent to: WKBH Foundation, 9555 SW 162nd Ave., Miami, FL 33196.