The View from Faraway Farm: Cutting out the outlet town


A couple of years back I purchased a down jacket at L.L. Beans outlet store in Freeport, Maine. It has been a great jacket. However, somewhere in my recent travels, I must have edged my way past something sharp, because suddenly I noticed down on the seatback in the truck. A quick look at the back of the jacket confirmed my fears. There was a horizontal tear in the nylon about and inch and a half long, allowing fluffy white down to escape. My simple fix was a two-inch piece of black electrical tape. A couple of weeks later I noticed more escaping down, only, this time, it was on the inside of the jacket in the same place. More tape. At about this same time we had planned a one night getaway to Maine, just to break up the winter doldrums. Freeport was on the agenda.

After a night in an overpriced hotel, we drove into town and went straight to the outlet store. I wanted to replace the jacket with something similar, but there wasn't anything close in my size and color preference. So we ambled up the street and stopped in at Linda Bean's Cafe for breakfast. They put us in a booth that was so tight I could barely breathe. We looked over the menu about six times, waited, waited some more, and then we decided this wasn't going so well and we walked out. So my significant other and I went across the street to Bean's flagship store, found the perfect jacket, and when I looked at the price tag we walked out of there, too. Sorry, no sale, Freeport.

Part of the itinerary included a fabric store in a small town near the New Hampshire border. While my significant other loaded up on quilting fabric, I read the infotainment manual in my new truck and learned how to use the voice commands, adjust the tone for the stereo, and connect to the built-in wifi. When the shopping was over we chose to amble over to Route 4 via Route 202. It was a great ride on a road I had never taken before, through a bunch of towns I'd heard of but never visited. Ultimately we ended up in Concord at the L.L. Bean outlet. I found the perfect jacket at 50 percent off and even got a cool water hog doormat for more than half off. When we arrived home my fiancee took the jacket out of the bag and informed me that the ink filled security tag had not been removed by the sales clerk.

The next morning we drove up to the West Lebanon L.L. Bean outlet and got the security tag removed. If you factored in the travel costs, the hotel, and the extra trip to West Lebanon, I could have stayed home, ordered the overpriced down jacket online, and still come out ahead dollar wise. Yet, if we'd done that, we never would have enjoyed the time together, the ride, and the sunny late winter day. The driving part of the trip actually elevated my mood, which had begun to show the signs of cabin fever. While it has been a relatively snow-free winter, and the severe cold only touched us a couple of times, you can still get down about the season. Some years we've taken the time to go south and enjoy warm weather, but we've both been put off by the hassle of air travel and driving too much. I've noticed that the older I get, the less I enjoy leaving home, and the less tolerance I have for going to places that may possibly be crowded.

Fortunately in March, Freeport, Maine is pretty quiet. West Lebanon? Not so much. While there we did some grocery shopping. The store was a mad house. You literally could not turn around without touching another human being. Yes, it was that crowded, and the traffic was nuts, too. On the way home my fiancee wanted to stop at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham. The parking lot was overflowing with all the yuppies who went skiing instead of shopping in Maine. She looked at me, I looked at her, and the decision was made without a word being spoken. We passed on it and went directly home.

The population in Vermont is aging. In a few years, there will be far more senior citizens than possibly any time in our state's history. If most of my peers choose to be homebodies like me, it will make for some interesting dynamics. If this sort of thing happens nationally, places like Freeport, Maine may find themselves dealing with much smaller crowds. Internet sales, already increasing at an insane rate, will simply make retail shrink some more, as it is already doing in some places. I think I've probably made my last trip to an outlet town for quite some time. There just isn't all that much appeal anymore. As far as shopping malls are concerned, I haven't been in one for years. If those places decline, it sure would be great to see healthier retail in our smaller towns.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.


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