By Hannah Wallace
Sandbar Swimwear started with a conundrum. In 2022, Barbara Bush and her husband, Matt, had finally realized their dream of living on Siesta Key — a dream they’d had since first moving to Florida in 2015.
“Every day before I come to the office, I’d go to the beach and walk,” said Barbara, an attorney practicing in Sarasota. But one cool morning last autumn, when Barbara decided on a whim to shop for a new bathing suit, she found the local retail spots had already switched to winter wear.
“We have one of the best beaches in the area. It was mind-blowing to me that there weren’t any [swimsuit] options,” she remembered. “If I want to go to the beach, I don’t want to leave the island [to shop], especially if I’m a tourist.”
Barbara and Matt quickly came to agreement: “We thought, ‘Here’s the need. No one’s offering it. Why not us?’” she said.
Barbara, who grew up in Chile, first met Matt when she came to his Arkansas high school as an exchange student. (“She was very unlucky to do an exchange there,” Matt laughed.) After graduation, Matt served in the Army and fell in love with southwest Florida while visiting a buddy in Englewood.
In 2015, he and Barbara packed up their jeep and moved down to the Sarasota-Manatee area. There, Barbara would continue to practice law while Matt worked as an EMT.
Seven years later, the move onto Siesta Key finally gave them “the full Florida experience,” said Barbara. And when looking for retail space, she added, “We always wanted to stay on Siesta. But there’s not that many retail locations. That was always one of the challenges.”
In March 2023, the Bushes opened Sandbar Swimwear in an upstairs storefront on Ocean Boulevard. They’re currently focused on women’s swimsuits and would like to offer a variety of quality options, at a reasonable price point, for all ages and style preferences.
“Our main goal is we want to bring quality products, sustainable brands, recycled materials — that’s something that we’re passionate about,” said Barbara. “We have to do with the beach, the oceans, and we have to make sure we’re staying in line with that.”
In the future they hope to add men’s suits and other clothing options, beach accessories, and maybe even additional store locations on Lido and Anna Maria. They’re even talking to manufacturers about developing their own swimwear brand.
But for now, they’re taking things slowly. And for Barbara, who continues to work as an attorney, and Matt, who now commutes to Pinellas for his firefighter/EMT role, everything from inventory to advertising to product research has been a learning experience.
“We don’t have any experience in retail,” said Matt. “Finding suppliers was difficult. We’re still working on finding something for the older population. We’re finding out what they want and how we can get it for them. We’re not trying to steal business. We’re trying, if we can, to provide something unique.”
Indeed, their Siesta Village retail experience has been more about community than competition. Neighboring business owners have stopped by to offer tips and support, and the Bushes look forward to collaborations like hosting pop-up events with spray tan companies and other local vendors.
“Everybody in the community has been so supportive,” said Barbara. “This has been a very passionate project for us. We are learning as we go.”
The store is located at 5212½ Ocean Blvd., suite 4.
Hours are 10 a.m. 50 5 p.m. daily. Visit sandbarswim.com or call (941) 237-0234.