Keys Animal Hospital was named Best Business in Marathon at the Million Air hangar this past Saturday night and some new and some very familiar faces were in the mood to celebrate. 

The 14th installment of the Best of Marathon culminated in a sold-out gala where multiple businesses and locals captured their first people’s choice award. 

Rachel Bowman won her first ever “Best Local Celebrity” trophy, while Marathon Mermaid Charters captured the inaugural “Best Leisure Cruise” award. 

The new frozen yogurt shop, Conch Custard, nabbed plaques for Best New Business and Best Family Business, while iconic local favorite Sparky’s Landing kept its 14-year streak alive as Best Happy Hour and added another Best Margarita plaque to the trophy case. 

Keys Animal Hospital’s Dr. Mike Dunn also continued his streak as he was voted the town’s “Best Vet” for the 14th year in a row. 

Launched by the Marathon Weekly with the Marathon Jaycees back in 2008, the voting process, venue and awards show has seen several iterations over the years – from the humble beginnings at the old Jaycee building (now an empty lot across from Stanley Switlik) when the  Jaycees would spend all night counting hand-written ballots torn from the paper to an all digital voting system and a crowd that has doubled in size. 

Now produced with the Rotary Club of Marathon, all the proceeds from the event land in the Rotary coffers and over the years have been used for a variety of community service projects and local scholarships.

“Personally, I look forward to this event every year,” said Rotary president Sam Williams. “It’s just a great time to catch up with old and new friends while shining a light on the fantastic work of our amazing club.”

The event inevitably includes some sort of humorous commentary and political roasting while honoring local heroes and community stalwarts for their contributions and the event itself was even nominated for “Best Local Event” prior to losing out to another fourteen year winner – the Original Marathon Seafood Festival. 

The reach of the event has grown significantly over the years as online voting saw nearly 5,000 voters cast 169,125 votes from 44 states and 12 countries. 

Dr. Alex Belke and his wife Sharleen each won awards for their burgeoning businesses – Overseas Chiropractic and The Keys to Dog Training – while the Florida Keys Steak and Lobster House, Burdines and Castaway also took home multiple awards. 

The awards show saw Weekly editor Alex Rickert and performer Jaimie Roberts premier the new “Marathon State of Mind” rendition of the classic Jay-Z  and Alicia Keys’ hit song with lyrics written by Rickert and Roberts specifically for the night. 

“We are really fortunate to have such a great relationship with an organization we really believe in like the Rotary Club,” said Weekly publisher Jason Koler. “The event is about bringing this amazing community together to celebrate what makes Marathon such a wonderful place.”

Photos by DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly.


There’s something to be said for a first Best of Marathon win, whether it’s a brand new business or one improving steadily for years. For the first time ever, the 2023 awards ceremony paired 17 first-time category winners with four “legacy awards,” marked on the plaques for businesses that have captured Best of Marathon wins in a particular category more than 10 times since the event’s inception in 2009.



Click on a category below to see the winners.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.