Downtown to Become Lifestyle Center

LL Bean Store in Freeport, Maine

According to GlobeSt.com, the flagship L.L. Bean Store–which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is the epitome of the outdoor lifestyle brand–is going to be redeveloped as a $40 million dollar, 113,000 square-foot lifestyle center, anchored by a revamped L.L. Bean store.

Of course, the original L.L. Bean store is actually located right in the heart of scenic Freeport, Maine, a picturesque coastal town just north of Portland, and it has been the town’s focal point since at least 1917. The store attracts many tourists, and its presence has caused the downtown to fill with outlet stores for many of the most popular mall merchants, including Gap, Banana Republic, and Abercrombie & Fitch. In other words, L.L. Bean is sort of an anchor store of an actual, real life, classic New England town center, the kind of place that lifestyle centers try to emulate. And of course, we’ll now have an actual lifestyle center moving into the very place it’s trying to mimic! Try and wrap your head around that one!

Snark aside, the fact that L.L. Bean is shaking up its mix is worth mentioning. Long a major outdoor lifestyle brand (alongside Cabela’s, Orvis, Bass Pro Shops, and Land’s End in one corner, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, and others in another), L.L. Bean has been in the process of stepping up their efforts to compete against expanding outdoor brands, especially Bass Pro Shops. Just last week, they began their new roll-out of stores outside of Maine with the opening of a two-level store in the Wayside Commons lifestyle center in Burlington, Massachusetts, and they plan a string of new stores in the new future. What’s in store for these, as compared to the failed concept they rolled out in 2000? Essentially, “mini-me” versions of their gargantuan Freeport flagship, complete with nearly every item currently featured in their catalog. L.L. Bean will likely be attempting to introduce themselves nationally as the more upmarket, granola cousin to stores like Bass Pro Shops, where the emphasis is less on guns and more on butter (and kayaks). Interestingly, L.L. Bean told The Boston Globe last week that they plan to avoid malls and cling to the lifestyle format, relaying an anecdote that customers (understandably) don’t like lugging kayaks through malls. Still, it seems to me that most who shop at the ‘ol Bean are moneyed, yuppie types buying more clothing and housewares–they sell deliciously tasteful dinnerware–than true outdoor gear, though I suppose the lifestyle center format takes dead aim on this particular demographic regardless of what they’re really buying. The canoes hanging from the ceiling may merely be for effect, but I suppose they achieve their purpose.

It’ll be interesting to see if the market can support so many similar competitors. I secretly suspect I’m too young, too poor, and too indoorsy to fall into L.L. Bean’s real target demographic but as a lifelong Yankee, I wish them luck.

5 Responses to “Downtown to Become Lifestyle Center”

  1. I dunno…isn’t competition good? Especially with the Macyator destroying dozens of department store brands leaving a Communistic red star in its path….

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  2. This, I’m afraid is the beginning of the end for “Ol Bean.”

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  3. I don’t see Bean’s ever going away. They offer excellent products at good prices, and they will repair or replace anything defective for life. I have a pair of their boots, and will wear nothing else in these New England winters.

    I have vague memories of seeing the original store in the very early 80′s (’82-’83 at the latest). It was dark, and kind of scary. At least to a 4 year old… The new store isn’t bad, but I liked the layout they had previously. Everything was neatly contained in one building. Now, if I want to go look at the guns and bows while my wife is checking out clothes and furnishings, I have to cross the maze-like parking lot to find the hunting building.

    At least they’re still open all hours. And, last I knew, the coffee was still free after midnight. Midnight coffee runs became a tradition after high school drama club cast parties (I went to high school in Brunswick, just up the road), and it was something I introduced my college friends to at UNH.

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  4. Just visited the LL Bean store and Freeport outlets today on a trip to Maine for the week, and they haven’t constructed a lifestyle center in place of the flagship store. However, there was a lifestyle center built across the street and a block down from the flagship store, called Freeport Village Station. It just opened in the Spring and so far only has a couple of stores (Coach, Brooks Brothers Factory Store, PacSun Nike Factory Store and a relocated LL Bean Outlet Store. I think they are having much success from the new store format, as there has been a lot of buzz at least in the area that I live in (Southeastern Massachusetts) about the LL Bean store in Mansfield Crossing, which opened after the Burlington Store. They also opened an outlet location in Wareham. I think it’s an opportunity for people who want to touch and feel the merchandise instead of just from a catalogue.

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  5. As of July, 2009, there are only a handful of stores at the Freeport Village Station; most of which emptied out a space somewhere else in Freeport to move here. Unless your destination is L.L. Bean, the smaller stores don’t offer as many choices as the Wrentham Outlets in Massachusetts. It seems as though the most exciting store they can come up with is “Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll”. I notice she’s been written up in a few magazines lately to promote her recipes. But having that store is not enough for me to go there. When we parked in the garage, we looked for a sign directing us to the stores, but there wasn’t one that we could see. So we went outside and walked past empty space after empty space. None of these empty spaces are gong to make good locations for stores. No one was there! We walked up a long stairway, but that didn’t take us to the complex itself either; only to an open area where we had to backtrack up to Main Street, and then come through the front entrance to the complex. Once we got to the complex, it was the same as in May; only about 7 stores are open, and nothing new added. From what I could tell, most of the stores I saw were ones that have already been at some location in Freeport already. The town certainly is making a big deal of it, but so far, there’s NOTHING at Freeport Village Station to get excited about, at least for me. Other than the fairly nice entrance from the street, the rest of the complex is closed off from the other stores in Freeport, so if you’re parked at the bottom of the hill, or in the garage, be prepared to walk a long way to reach Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll. As far as new tenants are concerned, my perception is that Berensen is having difficulty attracting them. Other than what is already there, plus the few boring new ones coming this month, I don’t see much happening. Maybe by Christmas there’ll be more, but I’m not holding my breath.

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