FREEPORT — The Freeport Town Council wants to make the downtown more resilient in the face of a changing retail landscape under the COVID-19 pandemic

Downtown Freeport is dominated by outlet stores, L.L. Bean’s sprawling retail campus, restaurants and hotels.

“Historically for the last 20, 30 years, Freeport has been very dependent on retail shopping as its kind of primary economic engine,” said Town Councilor Dan Piltch “I think what we’re looking to do is diversify that and say — what other things can we have here in Freeport to attract people?”

“E-commerce has affected the way people shop,” said Town Councilor Tawni Whitney, adding that one method to bring more people downtown could be by moving toward “experiential shopping.”

“For example, if you sell paint, you offer a paint class,” Whitney said.

A final version of the Freeport Downtown Vision Plan will be presented to the council on May 18.

“The idea is that if there is low hanging fruit in terms of what we can be doing with our downtown, let’s not wait for a multi-year plan to get it done, let’s act on those things now,” Piltch said. “I think it’s important to note that it’s really beyond just COVID, this project was not driven by COVID, it was sort of born before the pandemic, really.”

Piltch said that while it is too early to say what changes will come about, some popular themes include an increased focus on outdoor recreation, arts and culture, and food and beverage.

“As we were looking at the effects of COVID, and the changing retail landscape, we really wanted to get the entire community’s involvement in what the vision for downtown Freeport was,” said Freeport Economic Development Corporation President Mary Davis. “As people start to come back into Maine, we want to remain a safe town that is really conscious of following COVID guidelines.”

Davis said that there are already a group of about 22 community member volunteers who are helping with the project.

Freeport businesses, residents and visitors are encouraged to fill out the survey on the project’s website, and the town is offering a “Freeport Downtown Vision Workshop,” open to the public via Zoom, on Feb. 25.

A COVID-19 friendly town walk is also being offered to the public on March 20.

L.L. Bean closed its flagship store, which is normally open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and its other retail stores in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The company reopened its flagship store and its other outlets in June.

Over the summer, the town temporarily closed a portion of Main Street to vehicular traffic — allowing more space for pedestrians and shoppers — to assist local stores during the pandemic.


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