Luna, 3, and Diana Porta of Portland leave the L.L.Bean flagship store in Freeport, where they were shopping on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Abby Labrecque of Saco browsed the display at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops in Freeport on Friday morning. She had done most of her holiday shopping online in 2020 and 2021, but now she had an L.L.Bean bag in one hand and potential stocking stuffers in the other.

“I’m trying hard this year to shop in the stores as opposed to shopping from Amazon,” said Labrecque, 40. “I felt like I was missing out on the holiday.”

And local retailers were missing out on business like hers.

This year, the National Retail Federation has predicted that more shoppers like Labrecque will return to brick-and-mortar stores. The trade association has also forecast that holiday sales will hit new records. But the expected growth isn’t as large as in recent years.

Retail spending in November and December has increased every year for the last decade, but 2020 and 2021 saw especially big increases. Last year, sales nationwide grew 13.5% over 2020 and totaled $889.3 billion. This year, industry experts have tempered their expectations somewhat because of the pressure of inflation, and predict sales will grow 6% to 8% over 2021.

“Despite record levels of inflation, rising interest rates and low levels of confidence, consumers have been steadfast in their spending and remain in the driver’s seat,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “The holiday shopping season kicked off earlier this year – a growing trend in recent years – as shoppers are concerned about inflation and availability of products. Retailers are responding to that demand, as we saw several major scheduled buying events in October. While this may result in some sales being pulled forward, we expect to see continued deals and promotions throughout the remaining months.”


Maine retailers selling everything from chocolate to diamonds to snow pants to dog toys are cautiously optimistic this season. The merchants said they are already seeing holiday shoppers in their stores and have reported upward trends in spending. But some hesitate to predict another banner year.

“I’m skeptical. Are people going to be able to spend like they did last year?” said Erin Collins, owner of Haven’s Handmade Candies, which has stores in Westbrook and Portland. “Last year was one of our best years overall at Christmastime. I still think it’s going to be strong, but will it be as strong as last year?”

Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said any predicted increase is “very welcome news.” He’s heard from retailers who reported strong back-to-school and early-bird sales in recent months, a bellwether for the upcoming season.

“If you have a good back-to-school and you have a good early-bird, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to have a good holiday, but it’s a good sign,” said Picard.

Still, an ill-timed Maine snowstorm can dampen the holiday spirit.

“We often do mirror the national, but a lot of it is weather-dependent,” said Picard. “If we have a bad weekend, either Black Friday weekend or the weekend before Christmas, the two biggest shopping weekends of the year, that can really derail everything.”



Shoppers crossed off their lists early in 2020 and 2021 to counter shipping delays and supply chain issues, and some retailers said they expect the trend to continue even though such problems aren’t as acute now. But at L.L.Bean in Freeport, the company expects a little more procrastination than last year.

“We are expecting a robust holiday shopping season with sales predicted to be on pace with last year’s record-breaking totals,” said Amanda Hannah, director of external communications and brand engagement. “We also expect the holiday shopping timeframe to follow historical norms compared to last year, when supply chain disruptions drove customers to shop early.”

Claire and Al LaBonte of Chicopee, Mass., were doing their holiday shopping in Freeport Friday for the first time since 2019. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Customers showed up early at the Loyal Biscuit Co. location in Rockland, where retailers opened at 7 a.m. on Nov. 12 and offered special discounts for morning shoppers. Owner Heidi Neal said the pet supply store had a successful morning, and sales of holiday items – such as a stuffed gingerbread man or an Advent calendar for dog treats – are already up more than 50% over 2019 in all six locations.

“Our early bird really knocked it out of the park, and it leaves me really optimistic,” she said.

At entertainment and music chain Bull Moose last winter, vinyl records were hard to come by, a shortage created by high demand and big album releases such as Adele’s “30.” Mick Werkhoven, the company’s marketing manager, said availability has improved this year, and customers are less stressed about buying early.


“I think supply chain for Christmas shopping was not something that most consumers thought about prior to the last couple of years, and I think they’re getting ready to not think about it again,” said Werkhoven.

At Haven’s, customers tend to wait until after Thanksgiving, no matter what.

“It’s chocolate,” said Collins. “If it sits around their house, they’re going to eat it and have to come back.”

Steven and Jessie Fillds of Rumford left L.L.Bean on Friday morning with tape to repair a tear in a jacket purchased last year. Even before the pandemic, they started holiday shopping months before Christmas, keeping an eye on coupons and clearance sales.

“I start in June,” said Jessie Fillds, 31. “I’m a penny pincher.”



At Springer’s Jewelers, President Lilly Mullen had heard the talk about record inflation and a possible recession. She started bracing months ago for a holiday slump that has not materialized.

“We prepared for the worst, and we haven’t seen that yet,” she said.

Even though sales have been steady compared to previous years, she is still cognizant of the greater costs customers bear this year. So for the first time ever, Springer’s is offering a promotion for Black Friday and Small Business Saturday in its three locations: Spend over $1,000 and get a free pair of diamond earrings.

“We are aware of the customer really being interested in some added value this year, and we hear that loud and clear,” said Mullen. “It’s really something we felt we could do to make their shopping experience a little more special.”

Retailers said they expect customers to be more cautious with their dollars this season.

Allan and Wendy Stewart of Brookville, New Brunswick, browse at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops in Freeport. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Last year, when everybody was just so excited to be out in the world again and doing their Christmas shopping in person, there was a sort of, ‘Oh my God, just throw it in,’ ” said Marie Stewart Harmon, general manager at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine gift shop. “This year it’s, ‘I’ve come in with my $125 budget, and I would rather spend $123 than $128.’ ”


John Reny, president of retail chain Renys, predicted “a back-to-basics Christmas.” He said people will spend money but stick to the items they really need – and that’s fine with him.

“I think it’s going to be sensible stuff, stuff people need,” he said. “That’s our forte. Your basics are your basics. If you need mittens, you need gloves, you need a ski hat, we’ve got it.”

At Skordo, which sells spices and other cooking supplies at two stores in the Old Port and the Maine Mall, owner Cari Karonis said she doesn’t know yet how the season will shake out. The average purchase in her stores is on par with last year, but the number of shoppers is down.

“Our expectations are that we’ll be flat with last year,” she said. “If we can do that, I’ll be thrilled.”

She noticed that customers were trending toward items at a lower price point – buying a four-pack of spices instead of a nine-pack, for example – so the company added 10 new recipe kits at low price points this fall. The kits have been extremely popular so far, she said, and shoppers are buying multiple small items for the same price they might have spent on one or two big items last year.

“People are buying, but they’re just being more careful,” she said. “Customers that are making the purchase are spending as much money as they were spending last year.”


Businesses also said customers seem more deliberate about where they spend their dollars.

“One trend we saw in 2021 that I hope continues this year is a more dedicated ‘shop local’ commitment,” said Werkhoven, from Bull Moose. “That seems to be really, really important to folks, especially Mainers. Honestly, we’re very protective of our brands and our downtowns.”


On Friday morning, Al and Claire LaBonte were in Freeport for the first time since 2019. The pandemic had prevented them from making their usual journey from Chicopee, Massachusetts, for holiday shopping, but now they were back.

“We are on our annual pilgrimage to the boot,” said Al LaBonte.

They had already stopped at L.L.Bean and were making their way to the “British store” (Bridgham & Cook, which sells British imports). They plan to give mostly gift cards this year, but they still wanted favorite stocking stuffers.


“We’ve got standard orders,” said Claire LaBonte – Christmas tea for their daughter, custard creams for their son.

Outside L.L.Bean, 3-year-old Luna Porta pulled her mom by the hand toward the ice skating rink. Diana Porta of Portland has already started shopping for holiday gifts, such as educational toys and the winter coat they had just bought. Porta said inflated prices might shrink her list this year – but Luna is finally old enough to get excited about the holiday, so the toddler will be the focus.

“She’s a priority,” said Porta, 36. “If anything, we’ll scale back on gifts for ourselves.”

And what does Luna want for Christmas? As it turns out, she is not particularly picky.

“Presents,” she said.

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