John, comments to this would be the same in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine or Florida. The people that work as clerks in home centers are not necessarily knowledgeable. Some may parrot what they are told to say and some may be very knowledgeable. Some are scary with their comments and you have to judge what category their comments fall into. They are supposed to push you toward their "approved" contractors, for one thing.
I think that you would be better off letting your fingers do the walking through the phone book or finding that local newspaper that seems to come out on monday or thursday and lists all the local contractors. These are the guys who know what they are doing but are too independent to want to grow into a large business so they don't advertise in the big daily paper. They would love to be able to get by on word-of-mouth advertising but that can get to be a little much for guys that are specialized.
I'll bet that there is a guy down there who did this kind of work "up north" but retired to your part of Florida. He probably still enjoys picking up his tools every so often and may be a little more able to pick and choose who he works for Your job is to find him. He will be a mason who specializes in fireplaces.