"What do you do up here in summer?" I asked a native of Maine one November morning as we bundled into parkas to hike in the Camden Hills.
"Well," he replied, "if it falls on a weekend, we go to the beach."
This August I saw it was true. From York Beach to Wells, from Kennebunk to Old Orchard, the sandy coves were full.
As were Maine's pebbly shores, hard by the Atlantic. As were the marinas and inns.
As were the sidewalks of Freeport, hometown of old-line L. L. Bean and dozens of new factory outlets shops that offer cut-rate prices on designer sportswear from Ralph Lauren to Anne Klein, and on shoes and china and cookware. Discounts average 50% off suggested retail. Much of the merchandise is in city stores in the same season. Some items are marked Irregular or Seconds.
Store Always Open
L. L. Bean, the outdoor sporting specialist on Main Street, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visitors approach its doors with glee and respect; it is a sight to see and a place to shop. The home store offers more items than its famed catalogue can list. The customer service and product guarantees are legendary.
When I tried to buy a pair of my favorite L. L. Bean suede country walkers, the clerk checked the storeroom and said they were not in stock. They were not in the latest catalogue either, he reported, and yet the computer did not indicate that they had been discontinued.
"Maybe they are just out of season," he said stubbornly. "Let's place an order and tell the computer to find them."
We shook hands at the conspiracy.
The shoes arrived at my home in California two days after I did. I don't know how it happened, but I am glad.
On my last day in Maine I stumbled into a cozy shop called Portmanteau at 36 Wharf St., in the Old Port Exchange, the restored waterfront of Portland.
Making Canvas Goods
The shop specializes in canvas goods. On an industrial strength sewing machine, they whip up snappy parkas and anoraks of 10-ounce water-repellent canvas that are lined with soft chamois cloth and have brass toggle closures.
Hanging from wall hooks was an intriguing collection of totes and satchels, camera bags and boat bags. I admired totes with paisley pockets and others with tapestry squares. Then I chose a shoulder bag of taupe canvas trimmed with brown leather, web straps and zipper top and pockets. It is large enough to serve as duffel, briefcase and purse for casual weekend trips. I bought a smaller black tote (about 16 inches square) for more formal expeditions.
As the jolly proprietor folded them for mailing, I read the blackboard above her head. It listed answers to customers' most frequent questions.
Yes, we make all our bags on the premises.
Yes, we use heavy-weight sailmakers' thread.
Yes, we will change colors or trim for special orders.
No, you can't find them for less in Freeport, Me.