A man isn't fussy about what he looks like when he goes fishing. He cares about comfort not appearance. A woman is different. When she goes to the beach, she wants to dress for the beach. When she goes dancing, she wants to be dressed for dancing. When she goes fishing, she wants to be dressed for fishing. There is a great future in this for us and something that the style people will give more attention to if they are smart.
Leon Leonwood Bean
Avid hunter and fisherman, L.L. Bean, was on to something big ($1.78 billion in sales in 1996) when he founded his private company after developing a waterproof boot (a combination of lightweight leather uppers and rubber bottoms) that he sold to hunters. A true entrepreneur, he obtained a list of non-resident Maine hunting license holders, prepared a mail order circular, set up shop in his brother's basement in Freeport, and started a nationwide mail order business. By 1912, he was selling the "Bean Boot" or Maine Hunting Shoe through a four-page mail-order catalogue, and the boot remains a staple of the company's outdoor image. It was used by sailors and soldiers in WWII. In fact, a huge Maine Hunting Shoe statue is available outside the store for picture-takers.
In Freeport I readily observe that L.L. Bean and its many stores dominate the city known for 200+ outlets, shops and restaurants. More than 3 million shoppers visit L.L. Bean alone each year. It's a treat. First, they are open 24/7, 365 days a year, so there's really no need for locks on the doors. Instead, you find funky paddles or metallic rods & reels for door handles, and inside, it's fantasy land for adults with every conceivable outdoor recreational item, a museum of artifacts encased in glass, myriad items such as moose antlers and wooden snowshoes draped on walls and a huge "Voyageur" canoe suspended from the ceiling. Plus, there's stylish clothing to suit any occasion from lounging around a fire sipping wine to climbing Mt. Everest. For men, it's a massive shot of testosterone!
For the kids, there's an outdoor waterfall, special entrances through hollowed-out trees and a 24-foot riverbed aquarium alive with fish, turtles and other species found in Maine's waterways. A unique dome inside the tank provides fun viewing for young naturalists who can get nose to nose with the rainbow trout. I detected several older "kids" also enjoying the show.
In the early 1950's Bean's Fish and Game Plates were very popular with customers, and today they are prized by collectors. Plates on display here are the Golden Trout (1951), Green-winged Teal (1951), Wood Ducks (1951), Flying Pheasant (1954), Deer (1954), and three steins: the Deer Buck (1956), Flies Beer (1956) and Pheasant Beer (1956). There are several other display cases in the stores including one dedicated to a fly-fishing that contains several interesting artifacts that immerse one in an imaginative cold running stream.
The L.L. Bean flagship Store is located at 95 Main Street, but now there is a "campus" layout with different departments in separate buildings as well as a central park and adjoining restaurants. There's an L.L. Bean Bike, Boat & Ski Store, an L.L. Bean Hunting & Fishing Store, a Home Store and an Outlet Store. In the Home Store, there's a great selection of home furnishings featuring one-of-a-kind handmade items, an assortment of vintage items, and fresh takes on classic home products.
L.L. Bean cleverly offers educational programs connected to many of its retail outlets to support the outdoor interests of its customers. For example, the Freeport location offers Walk-On Adventures for $20 in Fly-Casting, Archery and Kayaking from Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Snowshoeing and Cross Country skiing are available December - March. All of the other retail stores (there are now 13 total outside of Maine from Chicago to the Mid-Atlantic region) offer Fly-Casting and Kayaking.
The Outdoor Discovery Schools, in addition to beginner to advanced courses in shooting, fishing, and kayaking, offer weekend adventure trips and daily guided kayak tours in Maine as well.
Part of L.L. Bean's mystique derives from the company's 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, a promise born in 1912 that remains to this day. Any L.L. Bean purchase, whether made at the flagship store, outlet shops or via mail order, can be returned for a replacement or refund.
In Freeport, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, a five-minute walk from L.L. Bean. On the way, you pass an old Town Hall Meeting House and a small park featuring a memorial to fallen soldiers and sailors, many of whom were probably acquainted with the Maine Hunting Boot.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.