It just kind of worked out.
The space for her store of 10 years in Rehoboth Beach was being renovated. There was a divorce that was winding down. And an oceanfront spot right on the Bethany Beach boardwalk had just opened up.
Factor in that her partner — a Bethany legend who goes by the handle “Bodji” — knew the landlord, and that she padded by the spot on her stand-up paddleboard (SUP) every morning anyway, and Lili Oller didn’t have to think twice about opening up her new store, Water Lili, as everything else seemed to fall into place.
“This is the rebirth. This is the new beginning,” said Oller, who had previously owned Tiger Lili in Rehoboth. “I was like, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna dive into this, because I so believe in this.’ This is not work. This is my life.”
An avid SUP-er and ocean advocate, with a worldly travel résumé and off-the-wall passion for fashion, Oller opened up shop last week, aiming to introduce Bethany Beach to her signature — yet always changing — bohemian beach style.
An array of versatile clothing options, ranging from beachwear to casual and evening wear, as well as jewelry, eyewear, handbags, footwear, accessories and vintage T-shirts, flannels and even a few garments without universal classifications, are just a slice of the lifestyle that can be typically found at the newest hotspot on the boards. And, according to some of the locals turned already-loyal Water Lili customers, it’s exactly what the area has been waiting for.
“Some of the stores have a lot of old-lady stuff, and this store does not,” said Ocean View resident Cindy Timmerman with a laugh. “Without question, we needed something like this. I think the store is fabulous. I think there’s a lot of just really interesting, different stuff. It’s the kind of thing I like.”
While she’s originally from Panama and frequently still drops out for fashion-related travels to the West Coast and down to Rincon, Puerto Rico, to visit her daughter, Oller is a long-time local with roots firmly entrenched in the Bethany Beach area — which her store reflects from the merchandise all the way down to the motifs.
Behind her vision and Bodji’s craftsmanship, each display case, table, shelf and accent wall has been designed and forged out of local repurposed materials, such as old barn wood, Puerto Rican sea glass, threadbare denim and even a retired Bethany Beach lifeguard chair with the names of past guards still carved into the grain.
Also present around the shop are photos of trips gone by and outings with “The Mermaid Mamas” — Olley’s SUP group, which never misses a sunrise paddle during the summer months. Along with the actual Atlantic only 100-some-odd yards away, it’s just another way to remind Oller of her new chance to share her way of life with the area by way of the store she’s come to reverently refer to as “the baby.”
“That’s what I’m selling, is the lifestyle,” said Oller. “This is my life and Bodji’s life — we live for the water. We want everybody to experience and have a taste of our lifestyle, and that’s what I’m projecting here at ‘the baby.’
“We used to come to the beach every day to look at it, before we had the store. Now we get to look at the water every day. I can never take this for granted. I park miles away so that I can walk the boardwalk and look at the water — it’s awesome.”
While what’s on the shelves is typically inspired by what’s in the water, Water Lili is by no means the average T-shirt shop. In fact, not only does Oller look to bring in items off the beaten path, but once they’ve been in the store once, chances are they probably won’t be again.
“Expect the unexpected. I’m all about the fashion. Whatever’s on fire, I’m jumping on it,” Oller said. “I don’t want to sell what everybody has — it has to have something special.
“I go everywhere, and I buy with passion. I’ve always been known to have totally different — it’s very edgy. It’s very bohemian. There’s a lot of lace. There’s a lot of flowy, earthy stuff. If it’s not moving… I’m moving it.”
Right now, Oller is carrying several exclusive items — including some she’s even designed herself. Water Lili is currently the only brick-and-mortar store to purchase anything from the SUP Mermaid line from SUP Life, and soon to arrive will be a line of Puerto Rican-designed bikinis, special for the store, to go along her own “sari shorts” from India.
Then, of course, there’s all the hot-selling items, including the three-way top called “The Best Top You’ll Ever Have,” a select line of “bralettes” and other hip favorites, such as patchouli oils and Indo Boards. But, no matter what’s in stock, Oller is just glad to be back in business and doing what she loves.
“I love it. I love what I do,” she said. “I can’t punch a clock. That’s not me. I’m here in front of what I love. This is not work… this is home.”
Water Lili is located in the Blue Surf building, at 98 Garfield Parkway, #101, on the Bethany Beach boardwalk and is open every day at 10 a.m. The store phone number is (302) 539-1110, and Oller encourages people to check them out on Facebook and on Instagram, @waterlilibethanybeach.