Lilly Pulitzer's first store on Jersey Shore hopes to make a splash in Avalon

AVALON, N.J. — Lilly Pulitzer, the popular women’s clothing line whose floral patterns date back to a Palm Beach socialite’s effort to mask citrus stains on her attire, will be spending summer at the Shore.

The upscale brand will open in Avalon, from Memorial Day weekend to the end of September this year, continuing retail’s growth in Cape May County.

The opening comes as the latest stats show that Cape May County outpaced all other counties in revenue generated by tourism retail sales. Cape May County retail expenditures in 2016 were $1.24 billion, up 3.7 percent from $1.195 billion in 2015. Total tourism revenue for 2016 was $6.3 billion, an increase of more than $295 million or 4.7 percent from 2015.

“Retail is doing very well at the Jersey Cape,” said Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism.  “While we don't have actual indoor malls, our boutique shops are what visitors are looking for when traveling.”

Surveys show that 79 percent of visitors to Cape May County go shopping while on vacation, and 81 percent go to restaurants, Wieland said. 

Now they'll have another shopping destination.

Lilly's 1,000-square-foot location at 2009 Dune Dr. was brokered by Colin Behr at CBRE Inc., who started scouting sites along the Shore a year ago with Lilly’s national broker, Corinne Kotila of MKJ Advisors LLC.

“We got a call from one of our offices in New York that Lilly was looking in the South Jersey market, specifically along the Stone Harbor/Avalon stretch,” Behr said.

Behr, who spent summers in Avalon as a youth, said the building Lilly selected is owned by 2005 Dune Drive LLC, and sits on a manicured block of Dune Drive between 20th and 21st Streets, surrounded by restaurants and other high-end, strong regional and local independent boutiques.

Also on the block is a Lululemon store that opened three years ago; Ellelauri, another high-end women’s clothing boutique, sits at 264 21st St. Lilly Pulitzer will open next to Lululemon and Surf Side Fitness, a studio gym.

“It’s main of Main Street — 21st   Street and Dune Drive has good retail and really good vehicular traffic,” CBRE's Behr said. “All four corners are among the town’s strongest performers. There are three eateries on four of the corners and the street retail does well.”

Lilly sells mostly casual clothing and is known for floral patterns in bright colors for women in their late 20s and early 30s. But the brand has also branched out with other styles, including the Resort 365 line of resort apparel.

Michelle Kelly, chief executive officer of Lilly Pulitzer, said the brand and Avalon, a seasonal destination that’s getting more crowded and attracting a steady stream of new retailers, were a good fit.

“Lilly Pulitzer is a resort-wear brand born in Palm Beach that celebrates the sunny days of vacation, endless summer, and the happiest times of your life celebrated with your family and friends,” Kelly said. “Avalon’s family-friendly atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and legacy of ‘heading down the Shore’ for the summer fits right in.”

Lilly Pulitzer was created by accident and evolved into a fashion sensation.

In 1959, the former Lilly McKim, who married wealthy Florida citrus-grove baron Peter Pulitzer, set out to have a project of her own to distinguish herself in Palm Beach circles.

The socialite opened a juice stand using her husband’s produce. Although it became a hit, the work of squeezing oranges, lemons, limes, and pink grapefruit took a toll on her clothes. So she asked her dressmaker to design a dress to camouflage the stains,  and the “Lilly” – a sleeveless shift dress in pink, green, yellow, and orange cotton print — was born, and took off.

Lilly Pulitzer is now the second-biggest clothing brand of publicly traded Oxford Industries (behind Tommy Bahama), and was the company’s strongest performer last fiscal year with a 14 percent top-line growth, with gains in every distribution channel,  financial reports indicate. Oxford CEO Thomas C. Chubb III said the 41-store Lilly adapted earlier than most to the "new retail reality" of investing in online and is prudently adding three stores this year even as others are closing locations.

The Shore location is the second Lilly Pulitzer in New Jersey, one in Hackensack at the Shops at Riverside mall opened in April 2013.

Michael Busler, a professor of finance at Stockton University, said the median income for vacationers in Avalon and Stone Harbor is higher than the median of visitors in other Shore towns.  

"It makes sense for Lilly Pulitzer to locate a retail outlet in Avalon, which will likely attract more higher-end retailers,” he said. “Some studies have also found that consumers, especially at the higher end, tend to be less sensitive to price while on vacation, which means that they typically would pay more for a product while on vacation than they would shopping at home.”

When told Lilly Pulitzer was opening in Avalon, Sarah DeVita, 24, lit up. A regular to the Shore town from Bergen County, she said she’s been a Lilly customer since she was a teenager.

“I like their dresses – the colors and unique patterns,” DeVita, an account manager for a property management company, said in Avalon last weekend. “I’m mostly at the beach when I’m down here, but I will definitely stop in to see what they have.”