Simply Swimming

In a homecoming of sorts, Susie Mather has moved her Simply Swimming swimwear shop to the former home of Middleton Sports & Fitness, 6649 University Ave. in Middleton. Mather’s father, Bob Fass, who founded Middleton Sports & Fitness in 1972, retained ownership of the building after he sold the business in 2003. After Middleton Sports & Fitness closed late last year, Fass renovated the building into three retail spaces, the largest for his daughter’s swimwear company.

MIDDLETON — The emotions were raw when Susie Mather was told last fall that Middleton Sports and & Fitness would close its doors after more than four decades in business.

Even though her parents sold it in 2003, she had a difficult time processing that the business founded and grown by her family would no longer be a part of Middleton’s retail landscape.

Mather and her siblings had worked at the store at 6649 University Ave. since they were students at Stephens Elementary. To ensure its success, her parents, Pat and Bob Fass, had sacrificed family vacations, birthday parties and attending some of their children’s sporting events.

“It was like a death,” Mather said of the announcement by Rick and Ginger Hong, who had bought the business from the Fass family. “It took us weeks and weeks and weeks to process what that really meant.”

Simply Swimming

Simply Swimming was founded in 2004 on Mineral Point in Madison but on May 2 opened in the former home of Middleton Sports & Fitness, 6649 University Ave. Two other spaces in the building are being renovated for other retailers that have not yet been identified.

But seven months after that devastating news, Mather, now 50, is at peace. She’s also back in the old digs after her parents, who retained the building after selling the business to the Hongs, remodeled the 5,300-square-foot center of the building for Mather’s swimwear store, Simply Swimming.

Mather founded the swimming store in 2004 in a 2,000-square-foot location at 6108 Mineral Point Road but was cramped for space. So when the Hongs closed Middleton Sports & Fitness, which also had a large swimwear section, Mather inherited more business which further added to the need for a bigger space.

Simply Swimming

Anne Devitt is seen through a rack of swim goggles at  Simply Swimming swimwear shop in Middleton. Devitt was the swim wear manager at Middleton Sports & Fitness for six years before it closed last fall. Devitt now works at Simply Swimming, housed in space that had been home to Middleton Sports & Fitness for more than four decades.

So back to Middleton she went. Mather, who had a hip replaced in January, moved her business in April and opened on May 2. She now has more room for swimsuits, goggles, custom T-shirts, changing rooms, storage and a space for using a heat press to place transfers onto T-shirts. Her brother, Dan Fass, owns Middleton Cycle next door.

“I feel really good to be back,” Mather said. “I’m super proud to be here. But I didn’t get here by myself. It was the work of my family, my friends and our staff to get me here. This is quite a gift to come home to.”

The assistance came not just from her parents but her husband, John Mather, and friend Dick Carlson, who put in countless hours of construction to ready the new space. Former Simply Swimming employee Tom Bessey came back to help on website and technology issues, and Anne Devitt, who managed the Middleton Sports & Fitness swim department for six years, is among Mather’s 16 employees.

Simply Swimming

Ryan Mather uses a heat transfer table at Simply Swimming to make a shirt for the Shorewood Hills Swim & Dive Team. The larger space in Middleton means more room for the business that supplies several area swim teams.

Middleton Sports & Fitness was founded in 1972 in a portion of the building that also included a grocery store, Turkish diner, a bar and a beauty salon. The business moved to downtown Middleton for a few years before coming back to its University Avenue location, where it gradually took over the entire building.

Middleton Sports & Fitness

Rick Hong owned Middleton Sports & Fitness since 2003 but closed the store, founded in 1972, last fall. The store was known for its hockey, soccer, swim and lacrosse gear. An increase in specialty sports stores and competition from Internet sales led Hong to the decision. The space is now home to Simply Swimming.

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When Hong announced he was closing the business, the store had 20 employees, featured skate-sharpening services, a large line of ice skates and hockey sticks and a shooting gallery for customers to try out sticks. The shop also included soccer and lacrosse departments and a swim room jammed with goggles and suits. Hong said in October that he made the decision to retire in 2012 and had hoped to find someone to take over the business.

Simply Swimming

Simply Swimming swimwear shop has gone from 2,000 square feet on Mineral Point Road to 5,300 square feet of space in Middleton.

Internet competition, direct sales from manufacturers to customers and the opening of more hockey-focused stores from national retailers — like Total Hockey at Greenway Station in Middleton and Hockey Giant at South Towne Mall in Monona — didn’t make finding a buyer for the business any easier, he said.

“It’s getting to be a tougher market for the smaller, local retailer,” Hong told the State Journal last fall. “Realistically, I didn’t see how a store like this could survive.”

Now the 11,300-square-foot building has been repurposed into three retail spaces, with Simply Swimming occupying the largest space in the middle.

Bob Fass said he has put about $250,000 into the building, but more will be spent to remodel two retail spaces on the sides of Simply Swimming. Fass said he would like the new tenants of the roughly 3,000-square-foot spaces to complement his daughter’s swimwear store.

“They can help each other out,” Fass said. “It was very important for me to have (Mather) here because she needed more space to be successful, not that she wasn’t already successful, but she needed more space.”

Simply Swimming

Susie Mather's Simply Swimming swimwear shop includes a room dedicated to high-performance compression suits that can range in price from $100 to $500. The section of the store also includes a larger dressing room since swimmers typically need help putting on one of the delicate but time-saving suits normally used for major competitions.

The result is one of the largest swimwear shops in the Midwest.

It includes a 15-by-20-foot room dedicated to competitive compression championship suits that can range in price from $100 to $500. Some can only be used five or six times before the delicate suits begin to wear out. Attached to the room is a 10-by-10-foot changing room, since swimmers typically need assistance getting into the suits because of the high compression.

Madison is a swim-centric city that includes Walter’s Swim ‘n Sun, a longtime swimwear store at 1639 Monroe St.; several private and public pools with swim teams and suburban communities with club teams. Swimmers at Memorial and West high schools are perennial favorites to win state titles each year, and Verona’s Beata Nelson finished her high school career last fall as one of the most accomplished swimmers in state history and is eyeing the Olympics.

Simply Swimming

The new space for Simply Swimming in Middleton includes ample backroom storage. The shop, founded in 2004, is a major provider to area swim teams.

Mather’s family is a charter member of Parkcrest Pool on Madison’s West Side. Her business gets team swimwear orders from all eight teams in the Tri-County Conference and nine of the 13 teams in the All-City Swim & Dive League. The Middleton Gators have been a customer of Mather’s for over 30 years going back to when she was working for her parents.

“I was lucky to start with a great foundation because a lot of our customers (from Middleton Sports & Fitness) came with us when we started Simply Swimming,” Mather said. “Our goal when John and I started was not to become the biggest swim shop. It was to service the teams in this community.”

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