Photos: Laura Navarre
Is it a club or a men’s shop? In many ways, Beach Essentials in Rehoboth Beach is both. We’re talking club in more ways than one. Located in the upscale, gay-friendly second hundred block of Baltimore Avenue right up from the beach, it’s a longtime destination nestled among fine restaurants and boutiques. Customers are greeted with upbeat music pumping from speakers, whimsical decor like kites or paper balloons dripping from the high ceilings, and collections of bold-and-bright apparel.
“You feel the energy and the friendliness, and some of our customers have been coming here so long, we know them all,” says owner Gregory Brown, whose staff calls him the Mayor of Rehoboth Beach.
“We get waves of men who come in, sometimes a dozen at a time, and they are having fun, trying on clothes and showing them off to their friends,” he says.
Brown took over the shop from a previous owner 26 years ago. “It wasn’t a busy store at the time, but we saw the potential for it to become a really good business,” he says. At the time, the double storefront was divided into furniture and men’s apparel. With the introduction of more housewares venues in Rehoboth Beach and the popularity of Beach Essentials’ clothing, Brown gradually transitioned the inventory to only men’s offerings.
Beach Essentials has evolved into an institution in the community — and beyond. Brown says, “We are known throughout Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia.”
A vibrant selling vibeBeach Essentials’ clientele are second (and third) homeowners, and vacationers who return to Rehoboth Beach year after year. They appreciate the scene: nearby Aqua, an open-air bar and restaurant, the top-shelf menu at The Pines and Blue Moon, which is one of the seaside city’s oldest restaurants.
The staff is also seasoned, and that’s by design. Most are retired men, “which I like because they are not here because they need the money,” Brown points out. “They are here because they enjoy the atmosphere.”
At Beach Essentials, it’s all about the vibe — and it inspires buying.
Just ask Brown about the 5- and 8-inch shorts by Postmarc and Steele that he reorders weekly in every bold color and fabric including a fast-selling Tencel with resilient stretch. “They’re flying out the door,” he says.
“I have guys come in here and they will buy 10 pairs of shorts. They have a lot of stretch, they’re attractive, it’s a great material and guys see them when they’re out and ask, ‘Where did you get those shorts?’ and find out, ‘Beach Essentials,’ so we can’t keep them in.”
Swimwear is also a top seller, especially square cuts. The shop also offers bikini briefs and longer board shorts. “In an average year, I may order up to 1,500 to 2,000 swimsuits,” says Brown.
“We get waves of men who come in, sometimes a dozen at a time, and they are having fun, trying on clothes and showing them off to their friends.” — Gregory Brown
Again, customers often leave with more than one. “I’ve had guys come in with their partners and say, ‘You have 20 swimsuits,’ but, ‘I don’t have this one.’ And many of our clientele will not be seen two days in a row wearing the same swimsuit.”
To accompany the swimwear, Beach Essentials carries towels, flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreens. It’s all about the essentials and luxuries.
And an overall buying theme is the more the merrier — historically the case at this shop. Brown dials back to 20 years ago when he carried clubwear because the local scene was hopping and that’s what customers were after. Business thrives because Beach Essentials evolves with the times and guests’ tastes. Brown says simply, “Guys love the styles we carry.”
Presentation in every wayBeach Essentials’ displays guide men through the store in a natural way, offering some dedicated areas for just swimwear or only shorts, along with presentations that pair casual button-downs with styled pants. One wall is all shirts and shorts, and next to it racks of pants and more tops to match.
“Clientele usually start off to the right of the store, and by the door we have dressier shirts and shorts,” says Brown. They move around to the right side with swimwear, underwear, tees and tanks. Accessories complement displays and are housed together.
Namely, the shop sells the famed Shark Tank Mission Belt line. They’re leather, do not have holes and adjust every ¼ inch vs. 1 inch like most belts. “We carry small through XXL, and if you buy a large and lose weight, you can adjust the buckle and cut it down to size,” Brown says. The company also offers mix-and-match buckles for the leather belts so you can design your own combo. “It’s a very big seller.”
“I’ve had guys come in with their partners and say, ‘You have 20 swimsuits,’ but, ‘I don’t have this one.’ And many of our clientele will not be seen two days in a row wearing the same swimsuit.” — Gregory Brown
The men’s apparel and products inside Beach Essentials are every bit a part of the store’s presentation as the dynamic decor Brown changes — the ceiling “art installation” — year after year.
And staff are walking billboards for Beach Essentials. “My primary buyer Ed Gemoch has been with me for 12 years and his style is impeccable,” Brown raves.
Much like Rehoboth Beach with its small downtown feeling and decadent, diverse dining scene, Beach Essentials is a sought-after gem on the coast for fashion forward men. Visiting the shop is like going to see a great friend who really knows you. “That’s exactly what it is,” agrees Brown.