24 Hours in L.L. Bean; over and out

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I am not going into a war zone, although holiday shopping can be a full-impact sport. For the next 24 hours I will be embedded in Bean: Your eyes and ears in L.L. Bean’s Freeport flagship. Why am I doing this?

Because it’s there. The Mount Everest of Maine retail has invited me to camp and explore the L.L. Bean culture. I hope I reach the summit.

Among the fleece, crampons, and survival gear, I’ll be tweeting at @piercenews Instagraming under UrbanEyeMe and sampling the great outdoors indoors. Trail along as the quest unfolds in this live-blog.

[bdntwitter hashtag=”24bean” handle=”piercenews” date=”2014-12-12″]

[bdntwitter hashtag=”24bean” handle=”piercenews”]

12:38 Update: Got my tent! Here’s my “home” for the next 24 hours.

24Bean Tent

2:30 p.m. Update: The flagship Freeport store is a bit like Santa’s workshop. An employee named Nick, wearing a Santa’s hat, sails around the floor pushing a cart with people’s returns. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” he exclaims and whizzes out of sight.

I’ve heard L.L. Bean boots are big with hipsters, often seen on the streets of Brooklyn, so it’s refreshing to find Maine’s version of 20-something cool flocking here for quality. “We like that they don’t change the style,” said Mark Dow, of Fairfield, who shops here every year with his mother for holiday gifts.

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This year he’s with Calah Bouchard, a New Hampshire native, equally in awe of the Bean brand. “It’s the quality itself, and the guarantee.”

Next I visit the archery room for lessons! Hello Hunger Games.

4:55 Update: Calling Katniss. Archery is not just for bearded men in orange in the woods. This Olympic sport is taken serious in L.L. Bean’s archery department. When cabin fever sets in this winter (which it will) $5 gets you a half hour of target time here. Hey Santa, all I want for Xmas is a wooden bow!!

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7:50 Update. Eight hours into my occupy movement and I haven’t even scratched the surface. My timing was serendipitous, coinciding with the employee holiday, potluck, of which I have partook not once, but twice! These people not only make useful gear, they can cook. Seems monograms never went out of style. Saw a seamstress knock out initials on satchels under fire.

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And that staff Santa I told you about? He is so moved by the season, he dresses in vintage St. Nick gear on his own accord. I saw him lifting crates in the back of house, where 13,000 products come through the door every day this time of year. Ho, ho, huh? How do they do it?

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11:30 p.m. Update. Who knew holding a riffle/ shotgun could be so fun? This lady did. Her name is Georgette Kanach and she likes to outfit people with shotguns.

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Not just any firearm mind you, but a riffle “that would look good in your hands,” she tells me. In the evenings you’ll find Georgette in the hunting and fishing dept, where up to 900 types of guns can be purchased. I tried the lady hunter, a muzzle loader and a very sleek shotgun. The key is to hold the end “up against your bra strap,” the Jackman native instructs. If you don’t have one? She’ll tell you that anyway.

What most impressed me about this 61 year old is her knowledge and love of the sport. “I started hunting at 8 and bought my first 22 at 12,” she says with a touch of pride.

“People come here and they expect answers,” her colleague Mike says.

They get them from this markswoman who loves the thrill of the hunt. She even got me into this funny suit and perfected my stance.

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4:07 a.m. UPDATE: There is a reason why Maine needs a retailer open 24/7 that is not a gas station convenience store. Humans keep strange hours. And the call for button-down dress shirts and briefcases can strike at any hour.

I met two men of varying ages and stations in life that separately drove back home to Maine, after long road trips, and made pitstops at L.L. Bean’s mothership for goods at ungodly hours. One, a Brunswick man who wished to remain anonymous, gave me a unique answer for his nocturnal spree. “I don’t want my wife to know what I am buying and how much I’m spending.” So he snuck out at 2 a.m.

At least he was meeting a neon, nylon bag and not another, sleeker woman. Turns out guilt shopping is not uncommon after hours here. “We get that a lot,” sales guy said. Hide the receipts clandestine consumers. Your secret is safe with me.

7:30 a.m UPDATE: Waking up in a tent in L.L. Bean was a plush outdoor/indoor experience. I slept on a cot made in Orono, a self-inflated mattress and 32 degree down sleeping bag. An inflated pillow was the key to a lovely 1.5 hour nap. On #24coffee now.

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My corner office

7:40 a.m. Update: The holiday season looks bright at L.L Bean’s Freeport HQ. Since this is no mere store, but a destination where one can try shotguns, archery bows, sleep in tents, learn to fish and chill in a fish bubble (a must), the drop in oil/gas prices is fueling out-of-state, in-store sales. “From a consumer confidence standpoint, it feels good,” said Ken Dionne, general manager prepping for a meeting with top brass this a.m. “I just went by the gas station and the pumps read $2.80.”

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With the Bean Boot on back order and gas cheap, Dionne is poised for a bright holiday season.

Fill up the tank and join me, less than five hours to go.

Home store I’ll see you soon.

8:54 a.m. Update. Feeling lucky. As my climb starts to descend (three hours to go), seems being embedded in Bean is a dream of other journos. The team at Eat Drink Lucky, tagged #24Bean today as their wild card wonder, finding my exploits in the castle of flannel and fleece a top pick. I recommend it to anyone crazy enough to pull an all nighter with strangers. #onlyinMaine

11:15 a.m. Update: The environment is a stakeholder in L.L. Bean, I’ve just learned. They support the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Freeport Conservation and the home of the monogrammed tote is responsible for 18.5 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

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Gilman with the Gazetteer

“It’s about putting your money where your mouth is,” says Laurie Gilman, events coordinator.  “We want to introduce people to the outdoors and make sure they have some place to go at least in Maine.”

11:32 p.m. Update: Speaking of totes, I took over the sewing station for a minute and busted out one of these. photo-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12:20 p.m. Update: FINAL: What am I still doing here past my self-imposed deadline?? It’s hard to leave my adopted home. The last 24 hours has been all an embedded reporter could long for, complete with bed hair (no photo). I made it back to the bike, ski and sports store to get my endorphins up. Who knew Bic (the pen co.) makes SUPs now? Would like to try this on the water one day.

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Thanks for following my total immersion. Tune back in to www.bangordailynews.com for a consolidated report next week. Now I’m going to bed for some much needed zzzzzzzz’s.

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.