By Jillian Risberg
For a lot of women one of the most daunting things is shopping for a swimsuit and some would even rather be at the dentist.
Now you can cast your fears aside and step foot in an oasis of swimwear in the heart of Denville. California Beach Hut is celebrating 30 years outfitting Morris County in the best of swim and surfwear.
“I’d say it’s traumatic for some women,” says owner, Colleen Holland.
What makes it so difficult is living up to that unrealistic ideal.
“When women are looking online for swimwear they’re seeing these beautiful models with perfect bodies,” Holland says. “Then they come into the store and try on a suit and they don’t have that model body.”
According to the store owner, especially in the winter when we are all a little pale and our skin may not be in the best shape, clients need to accent their best part and that’s what California Beach Hut is there to help them do.
“If we see them in swimwear and their waist is so tiny, (we’ll tell them) let’s find something and draw attention to that,” Holland says. “Or you have awesome legs — you’re not going to wear a skirt. We work with what they have.”
The store isn’t crazy busy like a department store so she says you actually can come out of the fitting room and walk around in the swimsuit, bend over and see if it’s comfortable.
“If something new comes in, we’ll ask customers if they mind trying it on so that we can recommend it; we try to make it fun,” Holland says.
They also love to lift their client’s spirits.
“Definitely that woman who is feeling down on herself, we try to find a suit that really highlights; even if it’s just her coloring,” Holland says. “Blond hair, blue eyes we’re not going to give her a black suit.”
It all started when one of Holland’s best friends growing up worked for TJ’s Sportwide Trophy & Awards in Randolph and they had this tiny fashion department when the man decided that he wanted to sell the store.
“My friend Teresa wanted to buy it but didn’t have the money, so she asked my parents and myself to invest with her,” she says. “That’s how we got involved — Teresa managed it up until her death in 2008.”
That’s when Holland came on board and started to take over the day to day operations. And she’s been at her current location, 1 Broadway in Denville since 1991.
“Originally it was just a fashion store (workout wear: leotards, tights, leg warmers back then) and since 2000 we’ve been growing our team side of the business. Now that’s actually overtaken our fashion side,” Holland says. “It’s actually more popular. We service the swim teams throughout Morris County and parts of Somerset County and Essex County also.”
California Beach Hut sells swimwear and beachwear year-round.
According to Holland, you might be able to find something in a department or other type of store but it’s going to be a very small selection.
“You’re not going to find it until January when it’s cruise season,” she says. “And for those people who travel in November and December it’s hard to find swimwear so we actually stay very busy through the fall with a lot of people going on vacation.”
The main gist of her business in the wintertime are the YMCA indoor swim teams.
“What makes us so unique is our customer service,” Holland says. “If you go into Lord & Taylor or Macy’s you’re walking around by yourself, going into a fitting room and nothing fits — and then you come out all disappointed.”
But if you go to Cal Beach Hut, Holland says they look at each individual client and assess everything about you (good and bad parts) — and find the right swimsuit for you.
“We have bra sizes and underwire and small busted and we just keep bringing you stuff until you find something,” Holland says. “We have so much to offer, such personalized attention.”
The store owner says they honestly take it to heart if somebody walks out not buying anything, they are always trying very hard to make the customer experience the best it can be.
“We’re increasing our plus size market so that we cater up to size 24 for women and she’s a good customer too,” Holland says. “Our men’s department, we’ve brought in the Hawaiian shirts, we’ve brought in the hybrid shorts where you can wear them as walk shorts or swim trunks.”
And they just made some changes to their return policy. According to Holland, it used to be a 30-day exchange or store credit only, no money back. Now they offer a seven-day return for money back.
“We definitely look at reviews and take ‘em to heart, make changes based on them,” she says.
They have a good selection of accessories: straw bags, hats, flip flops, beach towels and more.
“Everything you could possibly need,” Holland says, adding that when the owner of the store next to them retired, they broke down the wall and expanded California Beach Hut in 2003, making the store its current 3,000 square feet.
Holland says they now carry size 7 for kids and carry a range of sizes for the preteen girl just coming into her own.
“We help her with the right coverage that still makes her feel older, but her mom is happy she’s covered,” Holland says.
Last year they sponsored the Denville Sidewalk Sale and are planning to do it again this year in conjunction with Thatcher McGhee’s. And they are generous with donations because they like to support the community.
“Anybody comes in for Tricky Trays or whatever we always give them a gift certificate,” she says. “We encourage donations; it’s a great way for people to come in to see our store.”
“There’s always something going on in Denville,” Holland says. “It’s a great community and we’re really lucky to be one of the largest stores here.”
When it comes to who shops at California Beach Hut, Holland says they serve a lot of local swim teams since they specialize in championship suits for swimmers.
California Beach Hut is the go to shop for Keira Cruz’s swim team and she calls their customer service like no other.
“They are able to service a 220-member youth program and make it look easy,” says Cruz, head coach of the Lakeland Hills Family YMCA.
“Always well informed of new technology as well as the old standbys regarding equipment and competitive swimwear; they are efficient, friendly and most importantly reliable.”
Their target audience is the woman between 35 and 60 and Holland says she’s shopping for her whole family.
That includes her husband, herself and her daughter comes in to take a look.
It makes sense to devote some time to the whole experience and not rush through buying a swimsuit, Holland recommends at least an hour.
The best part for her is getting to do this every day.
“I do a lot of the buying and being in the store and seeing that people like what I bought is very fulfilling.”
“When that teenager comes in who may have a little bit of baby fat still left and she wants to be stylish but needs to be covered and girls with bigger busts — that age we really want to make that girl feel comfortable,” Holland says. “It’s so nice to see her smile when she comes out and to really be happy. The moms are just thrilled that they finally found something.”
According to the store owner, some girls can go to Target for a swimsuit but there are many who need that individualized attention to find what flatters them.
The store carries a good selection of suits that will keep you right on trend whether you’re at the pool, spa or an exotic island somewhere.
“This year we’re seeing a lot of prints, reversibles — they’re trying to make it affordable — you’re spending $150 on a suit but it reverses, and mix-n-match; you don’t have to buy the bottom that came with the top,” Holland says. “Animal print is coming back in, polka dots are coming back, that high waist with cutouts, there’s a lot of stripes.”
This is their first year selling separates and she says people are loving it.
“Previously you’d buy a top and this bottom looks cute with it (your basic brief bottom) and then somebody would come in and be like, ‘can I get a skirt for this’ I want to cover the top of my thighs,” Holland says.
“Before they wouldn’t be able to do that or a lot of women are bustier with smaller bottoms or vice versa, so an A top and an A bottom don’t work. You might need an A top and a 10 or 12 bottom. This gives them the opportunity to buy exactly what they want.”
And they sell a lot of chlorine resistant suits for the year-round swimmer who swims for fitness.
“We can help them with the best fit for that too,” Holland says. “And a few (specialty) lines that we carry have the SPF built into them — dresses and rash guards, for people who are very sun sensitive.”
Are you short on time? No problem, Cal Beach Hut has got you covered.
“If they call us ahead of time and say, ‘I’m gonna be coming in and I have like a half hour; I wear a size 10 and need an underwire I have a full bust,’ we’ll definitely pull some things for them and have them ready,” Holland says.
When a client needs a particular size or the store is out of a size, Holland says she’ll special order it and try to secure their size if it’s still available.
California Beach Hut makes bathing suit shopping fun and exciting for Mindy Gansley and she says the staff is competent, caring and knowledgeable.
“They provide the personalized attention required when searching for the suit that suits you best regardless of size, age or style,” says the Lincoln Park resident. “A trip to California Beach Hut will definitely get you ready to comfortably and confidently get your summer on! I love this place.”
California Beach Hut is located at 1 Broadway in Denville. They are open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, they are open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, call 973-625-9155 or visit www.californiabeachhut.com.