For the longest time, I thought LL Bean was a mail order company, like The Swiss Colony, because I had only ever seen catalogues. I don’t know if anyone in my family ever ordered from them because I can’t think of a time when there was an overwhelming need for a pair of disco survival boots.
Now that I have visited an outlet location in Freeport, Maine I am not sure who their closest competitor is. Would it be Orvis or Dick’s Sporting Goods? Orivis is an outfitting company that specializes in outdoor activities and camping accessories whereas Dick’s Sporting Goods includes such activities among their stock but is not limited to that particular market. On walking through the massive store I still couldn’t tell you, but my overall impression of a place where a $40 dollar shirt is considered to be on sale is that their main demographic is upper middle class families that drive a camper out into some vaguely rural area, leave a mess at their campground and wonder why they are attracting bears.
For the record, this is not a class-envy rant. If someone has done really well for themselves financially, they should be able to spend money on whatever they like. And there are times when you don’t want to cheap out on clothing, like when you want a really nice tuxedo for a prom or a suit for a wedding or some other social occasion. Clothes don’t make the man, but a man can definitely feel more confident by wearing something nice and long lasting. And yet I am the sort of person who needs to feel smart as well as good looking, so when I find a really nice shirt or pair of khakis at a thrift store for way less than the original price in a store like L.L. Bean, I will gleefully brag about it.
This jacket for example: Ten dollars at The Goodwill and it would have cost me somewhere in the 100’s at L.L. Bean. That definitely goes in what I like to call “The Win column”, but as I said, to each their own.
What’s funny is that later that day, I got to meet John’s cousins and it was they, not I, who made the observation that you can find the L.L. Bean collection at any thrift store. The very next day, when John and I stopped in the town of Bath, we found several such items in a thrift shop that I will talk about in greater detail in a later post.
While John tried some items on in the fitting room, I went exploring. There were a few things that caught my eye, including a large river aquarium that contained many species of trout. There was a little observation bubble that allowed kids to get a “fish eye” view of the aquarium and I immediately envied them, but the pictures were enough to satisfy me. (Pictures of the fish, not the kids, just to clear up any confusion)
Before going into the store, we had dinner at a restaurant across the street known as Linda Bean’s. What’s funny is that I hadn’t even noticed the outlet store until I had jokingly told John that Linda Bean must have been the less successful sister of the Bean family. Then we saw the store from the balcony of the restaurant and I immediately resented my lack of attention to the world around me, not that the store would be on a quiz later or anything, but I also didn’t know that the restaurant and outlet store were both named for the same person.
The food was great, except for one criticism: When I say well done on my burger, I mean that the cow should not be able to give milk while I am eating it. Since I have eaten prodigious amounts of undercooked turkey and chicken, I finished the burger without complaint but other stomachs will not be so ironclad and all it takes is for one person to get sick before beans become the only dish you can legally serve.
When we crossed the street to go into L.L. Bean, I got a little mischievous. There was a store greeter who I guessed to be in her late thirties, possibly mid-forties, and I asked her, “Do you guys have any Bear Grylls stocked?” I’m thinking the actual survivalist, and the joke implies that many variations of the man might be packaged and ready to purchase for the savvy outdoorsman. But the greeter was confused by the question and either didn’t catch the playful tone in my voice, or actually thought that I was referring to a line of grills because she replied,
“Well, we have grills in the camping section.”
Okay. It wasn’t my intention to make fun of her, so I good naturedly withdrew my remark and went about my business. During the aforementioned exploration of the store, I found a pocket fire starter, which was a part of – you guessed it- the Bear Grylls collection. I yanked it off the peg and proceeded to find John, and we both had a good indoor laugh at the store greeter’s confusion.
Now I did conceit that that this was the only item I found in the entire store that had Bear Grylls’ name and photo on the package. So it stood to reason that there wasn’t a terribly huge selection of his things being sold at this particular L.L. Bean. However, if you work in a store that even remotely caters to the camping and survival crowd, not knowing who Bear Grylls is would be like working in a car parts store and not knowing who Henry Ford was.
Again though, I can’t criticize the store greeter too much. Even if a ten year-old once survived in the woods because of what he learned from watching Man Vs. Wild, it’s not like he’s the patron saint of L.L. Bean. That title falls entirely to this guy: