NEW YORK — For many college students, packing for spring break is like a gut course — there’s not much thought involved.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With that in mind, specialty stores have stocked themselves with skimpy and colorful two-piece swimsuits, beaded sandals, beach bags and other seaside necessities. Urban Outfitters has accentuated the easywear approach with new easy-to-find “destination shops” in its stores.

“We get a lot of tourists and they just buy what they see. They’re quick and they don’t take long,” said Erin McDaniel, junior buyer at Huntington Surf & Sport in Huntington, Calif. “We get a lot of college girls in here who need a suit. They buy what they like.”

Located across the street from Huntington Beach, the store has been selling a lot of fitted, screen-print T-shirts, zip-front sweatshirts, loungewear, knits and white denim from Billabong, Hurley, Split and Volcom. Students have been buying sportswear since the weather has not been that warm for swimsuits, McDaniel said.

To help push swimwear sales during spring break, Huntington Surf & Skate will offer gifts with purchase. Vitamin A, Salinas, Rusty and Billabong are brands shoppers ask for by name, and boy-leg bottoms, thick, tie-side bottoms, halter tops and triangle tops are shaping up to be important styles.

There’s not a lot of swimwear being sold yet at Surf City Surf Shop, which has stores in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, Fla., where temperatures have been in the 60s, said owner Mark Allison. Despite that, the retailer saw “a slight bump” in sales and expects to see “a steady incline” each week through Easter, as the weather warms up and more college students visit the area.

Shoppers are buying little purses from Billabong and Roxy, and flip-flops and flat leather sandals from Reef, Rainbow and Cobian. Despite limited swimwear sales, the store is seeing a lot of interest in brown suits from Raisins, Radio Fiji, Roxy and Marchiquita.

“That’s a strange one for us,” Allison said. “We don’t sell a lot of brown.”

Low-rider string bikinis are the predominant look at the Catamaran and the Bahlia, two hotels on California’s Mission Beach, said Tracy Tietjen, marketing coordinator.

This winter’s heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures across the country should help lift swimwear sales at Urban Outfitters, said Guen Eckstein, intimate apparel buyer.

“It’s been such a cold winter that the idea of buying a bathing suit is so appealing to a lot of people who hope it will be warm one day,” she said.

With half of its 52 stores in college towns, the company has set up destination areas with swimwear, flip-flops, beach bags and sunglasses. Two private labels, Damsel and Sparkle, along with the brand, Vix, are early swimwear bestsellers.

At Swim-N-Sport, a 28-unit chain in 10 states, college students are busy buying two-piece suits from Esprit, Hobie, Hot Kiss, Body Glove and Tommy Hilfiger, said Mark Sidle, owner of the 59-year-old business.

This year, they like the looks of medium-size floral prints, plaids, denim-inspired styles and solids. Sales of junior suits have increased buy more than 10 percent compared with last year, Sidle said. The junior business generally kicks off Feb. 15, he said.

“I can’t say our junior business is up in college towns because of spring break. The economy is still very questionable,” he said. “The product is better than last year.”

The chain only sells separates — two-piece suits that are available in different sizes of tops and bottoms — and the average purchase is $74. College students carrying their parents’ credit cards are less concerned about price and more likely to buy more than one suit, Sidle said.

With four stores in Florida and plans to open a fifth next month in Orlando, Ron Jon Surf Shops expects to see a bump in sales later in the month once college revelers arrive in the Sunshine State, said Debbie Harvey, director of merchandise buying. Pro surfer Kelly Slater will help kick off the season by signing autographs and playing his new skateboard video in the Cocoa Beach store on March 18. Ron Jon will also have in-store bands and will sponsor a surf festival next month.

Triangle tops, tie-side bottoms, low-waisted boy shorts and board shorts are already stocked up in the company’s Cocoa Beach and Fort Lauderdale stores, popular destinations with college students. Bebe, Roxy and its signature label are expected to be top sellers at Ron Jon.

“They like their suits as bare as they can be,” Harvey said.

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