LL Bean is a popular stop not just for tourists visiting Maine but for Mainers themselves. I’ve been going there my entire life and I’ve seen the flagship store expand over time, expand some more, and expand more yet again. The amount of ground that LL Bean takes up in downtown Freeport is significant. It put Freeport on the map, and it supports many area stores that have popped up around it supported by the retail giant.
Shopping at LL Bean is an experience onto itself. This shopping guide will help you get a leg, or maybe even a boot, up!
LL Bean – A Brief History
If you’re reading this, you don’t remember the year 1911, but there was a lot going on at that time—the first air-mail flights were made, SCOTUS broke the Standard Oil monopoly into Exxon, Mobil, and 32 other companies, and the race for the South Pole was on.
It’s also the year Leon Leonwood “L.L.” Bean invented the “Maine Hunting Shoe” in response to the wet, cold feet he suffered while hunting in his regular boots. His new boot combined leather uppers with rubber soles and insteps, protecting the foot from that famous Maine snow, ice and mud.
Years later, men on expeditions to the opposite pole indeed gave rave reviews to the updated “Bean Boot,” as Leon’s initial mailer offering the footwear grew into an award-winning, extensive catalog. Not far behind came the brick-and-mortar Freeport factory outlet—it carried official Bean totes, duffels, field coats, duck decoys, and much more. By 1951, this flagship store had not only survived the Great Depression but had done so with record sales, and was open 24 hours a day, catering to early- bird hunters who needed to pick up gear during the wee hours. L.L. Bean’s history is long and strong.
Today, there are more than 50 physical L.L. Bean stores in operation in nineteen U.S. states, along with 25 locations in Japan. Read on to learn more about the different parts of the L.L. Bean flagship “campus” in Freeport, Maine.
The Five L.L. Bean Stores
Shoppers may be surprised to realize there’s actually more than one L.L. Bean store in Freeport. There are four. There is the flagship store; Hunting & Fishing store; Home store; Bike, Boat, & Ski store; and the outlet store.
This is where you’ll find not only the well-known indoor trout pond and the Bean items that have achieved icon status themselves—monogrammable tote bags and backpacks, sturdy sweaters and jackets, and all forms of Bean Boot—but also thousands of other durable, authentic products worthy of the most discerning tastes.
This store is known for being open 24-hours a day and 365 days a year. For many Mainers, visiting the store on Christmas Eve and even Christmas Day is a Maine shopping tradition.
Most visitors start their Bean shopping here, but I would actually recommend starting with the outlet store (more on that in a moment). Regardless, this is the L.L. Bean store that is the largest and gets the most traffic. It covers three different floors of retail space offering everything from clothes for everyone, camping, optics, shoes, and a whole lot more. You can easily lose each other in the store if you’re shopping with friends/family so make sure to have a reconnect plan if you split up!
There are cashiers located throughout the store, and staff in the iconic green LL Bean shirts ready to help. My advice is to wait until you’re done shopping before visiting any cashier because odds are high you will find what you want only to find what you really wants somewhere else. If you’re like me, you’ll have to decide between the various items you want.
Good news – L.L. Bean classic canvas totes are available for customers to use while shopping.
Beyond shopping for products, the flagship store has a trout pond and a massive fish tank where you can poke your head up inside to get a fish eye’s view of salmon and lake trout.
Hunting & Fishing Store
It’s hard to grow up or even live in Maine for long without being drawn into the woods to do what outdoorsmen do—demonstrate the mastery of human over animal. And if you don’t already own the equipment, tools, and firearms to get the job done, walk through these doors and it won’t be long till you do. From lures and flies to rifles and compound bows, Bean boasts hunting and fishing gear that’s tops in both quality and variety. Seasoned pros have been known to let their jaws drop like the proverbial kid in a candy store.
While it’s identified as a distinct store, the Hunting and Fishing store is actually connected to the flagship store. You pass the customer service area (and the fish tank pictured above) and pass the 1912 Cafe and you walk into the Hunting and Fishing section starting with Archery to your right. Fishing products are located on the second floor of this store.
I bought my hunting rifle and the scope to go with it over a decade ago at the Hunting & Fishing store. At the time it was located in what is now the Home store. I didn’t set out to buy the rifle at L.L. Bean. In fact, I did price checking at three different stores and, despite its name recognition, L.L. Bean actually had the best price, beating out a local gun shop and the Kittery Trading Post.
Bike, Boat & Ski Store
Of course, the Maine wilderness can be thoroughly enjoyed without taking trophies. Many native Mainers and their “transplanted” friends and family members prefer to avail themselves of our state’s rocky shores, wooded trails, and craggy peaks on a bicycle, kayak, paddleboard, pair of skis—you get the picture.
This part of the Bean complex is your destination if you’re among them. As you might expect, the selection is astounding and the quality is second to none. And don’t forget, the store’s staff has a reputation for being knowledgeable and forthcoming.
I bought my and my wife’s cross country ski packages at this store. Again, like the rifle experience, they had solid pricing.
Try getting a hands-on tutorial on patching a bike tire or waxing a snowboard at one of the box stores! (And if you’re from out of state, don’t be afraid of what you might have heard about the reticence of New Englanders—Bean people are excited by what they’re selling…)
Guys, if you’re thinking you don’t want to get dragged around aisle after aisle of scented candles and rows of what Alton Brown would call “monotasker” utensils, don’t be afraid—my wife and I were here comparing mixer models a few years back, and I came across a great, solid blade sharpener that gives my hunting knife—and her chef’s knife—an incredibly keen edge to this day.
In a nutshell, if you’re setting up house, redecorating, or looking for the perfect complement to your existing room dressings, this is the “store of the four” for you. And ladies, we all know you’re the ones who are really in charge, so take these words with a grain of salt—from a sturdy yet elegant shaker you find here?
Less obviously found is the outlet store. You can’t see it from the flagship store (as you can the others) as it’s across the street and tucked behind other, clothing outlet stores near the small movie theater. It’s the smallest (one big room) of the five L.L. Bean stores in Freeport.
I recommend starting your shopping here. I do. Why? You might actually find what you’re looking for in the outlet store at a lower cost than what you’d pay in any of the other four stores. It’s a very hit-or-miss store, but if you hit it right, you’ll find savings.
Other Bean Attractions
You and your party will doubtlessly work up an appetite with all this shopping, so keep your bellies full with a visit to the 1912 Cafe, Coffee By Design, Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll, or Ben & Jerry’s, all within a few steps from any of the stores.
Finally, there’s also the L.L. Bean Discovery Park located on the green lawn between the flagship store and the Home store. This spot is where L.L. Bean hosts its free summer concerts (with some big names), Christmas lights display, and even activities like fly fishing demonstrations.
Check their schedule if you’re visiting to see if there’s a show that interests you – just get there early with your chairs. The lawn gets packed!
Other Notable Stores in Freeport
Depending on your overstimulation threshold, while you’re in Freeport you might as well stop by some of the other outlets. There are many other stores, including but certainly not limited to:
- North Face
- Polo Ralph Lauren
- Mexicali Blues
- and many more
We have a soft spot for Mexicali Blues, an emporium of goods that will have you in a patchouli dream in no time. It’s a Maine-born store.
The restaurants are no joke, either. Try the Broad Arrow Tavern, Gritty McDuff’s (a brewery with pub-style food), and the upscale Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro for starters—or simply stroll down Main Street and follow the most alluring aroma.
Linda Bean’s Restaurant is also found right outside the flagship store along Route 1. Read my review of her restaurant if you’re planning to eat while you’re there.