Jose Villada of Austin, Texas, and his daughter Martha Villada of Herman wait at the trout pond for other members of their party to finish shopping at L.L. Bean Wednesday, Jan. 25. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

L.L. Bean’s Freeport store and campus will get a more than $50 million makeover, the retail giant announced Wednesday morning.

The “Freeport Experience” project promises to make L.L. Bean’s flagship location “a more accessible and immersive experience for customers” by redesigning the store’s Main Street façade, adding new food offerings and expanding Discovery Park, in addition to other changes.

“This reimagining is really for the customers and stakeholders who have invested in us,” Chief Retail Officer Greg Elder said in a news release. “We are rewarding their affinity with a multi-million-dollar reinvestment that celebrates our legacy while creating an even better experience at our beloved Flagship.”

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, praised L.L. Bean for its commitment to Maine and suggested its investment could be a bellwether for Maine’s retail industry.

Lee White, store team leader, left, helps Lucas Steinberger try on a backpack at L.L. Bean on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

“They are a company that looks to the future, that plans accordingly, that does their homework in terms of how to serve their customers,” he said. “Whenever they do something, to me, it kind of sets the mark for others to follow.”

The decision to invest millions of dollars into a physical space may seem counterintuitive in the face of an industry-wide shift from brick-and-mortar to online retail. Even before the pandemic, 2019 sales of apparel, footwear and other general merchandise in Freeport had slumped to $56 million, down from a high of $80.6 million in 2013.


Yet the move makes sense for a company that has long used the promise of outdoor experiences to cultivate enduring relationships with its customers, said Erin Percival Carter, an assistant professor of marketing at Maine Business School.

L.L. Bean’s geographic location allows it to serve as the first stop for many Maine vacationers, she said. That fact, combined with the experiences the company offers through its outdoor products and myriad programming offerings, helps the brand build positive associations in the minds of its customers.

“If L.L. Bean can convince those people who are coming to Maine on vacation to experience ‘The Way Life Should Be’ to stop at the L.L. Bean store and have an experience there and pick up a hat or some gloves or whatever they’re going to use for the rest of their vacation in Maine, they form this really special connection,” Percival Carter said. “Probably when they go home and find themselves thinking, ‘I need a flannel,’ they think of L.L. Bean, and they smile and remember that vacation.”

This model squares with the major goals of Freeport’s recently finalized Downtown Vision Plan, which reimagines the town as a walkable New England village packed with arts, culture and other “experiential economy” offerings. L.L. Bean’s press release Wednesday cited the project as an influence on the company’s upcoming plans.

The 137-page Downtown Vision Plan report highlights L.L. Bean, which according to a company spokesperson draws three million visitors to Freeport each year, as an “anchor” for the town’s economy and suggests expanding Discovery Park in order to increase programming and recreation opportunities.

“The fact that they’re about to do this major investment of their campus, which is at the center of the downtown that we’re in the process of revisioning, couldn’t be better, really,” Town Council Chairperson Dan Piltch said.

“It’s a real investment in Freeport, and it’s a signal that L.L. Bean is going to be a cornerstone of Freeport’s economy for decades to come,” agreed Brett Richardson, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corporation. “It demonstrates confidence in the future of retail but also of Freeport.”

The company will release more specific details as it finalizes its plans in the coming months, according to the release. While the store will make temporary changes during the renovation process, including closing the 1912 café, its operating hours will be unaffected.

This story has been updated to correct the name of Dana Connors.

Customers make their way out of L.L. Bean in Freeport on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

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