FREEPORT — The 150 shoppers wandering around L.L. Bean at 2:10 a.m. Thursday weren’t procrastinators. The real procrastinators shop Christmas Eve, or even Christmas Day, at the store that never closes, says store Manager John Chaney.
Rick Johnson of Turner, with three pairs of L.L. Bean boots tucked under his arm, acknowledged he might be back on Christmas Eve, or early Christmas Day, making Santa’s last purchases. It wouldn’t be the first time, he smiled.
“It’s last-minute, no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “Always the last minute.”
Johnson has plenty of company.
Long after the crowds leave the streets of this New England village, L.L. Bean’s retail store remains lighted as a beacon for a different breed of shopper that crawls out of the woodwork for last-minute shopping, and maybe a little peace from the daytime crowds.
Typically, there are a few people milling around the store during the wee hours. But the nights before Christmas bring a crowd of bleary-eyed shoppers, some of them who planned to shop late, others who ended up here on the verge of desperation.
Don and Beth Morrison of Falmouth keep odd schedules and planned their shopping at the only free time around the holidays — midnight.
“We knew for a whole month we’d have to do this,” said Don Morrison, who grabbed 10 gifts, ranging from clothes to a gun case for his brother.
“Basically,” Beth Morrison says.
But not as bad as many shoppers. On Christmas Eve, many people find L.L. Bean to be a last resort, says Chaney. It has become a tradition for people to buy goods even as the first round of unwanted presents are returned late Christmas Eve, Chaney said.
Popular gifts seem to be big-ticket items like cross-country skis and bicycles, the store manager said, because late-night shoppers tend to be serious, and they know that they will be able to get individualized attention.
“Snowshoes have been big sellers even though we don’t have any snow,” Chaney added.
The shoppers find cheer at L.L. Bean from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. — the slowest time — because the store is less crowded and there’s rarely trouble finding a parking place.
Early Thursday, it appeared that about 70 percent of the procrastinators were men.
“It’s almost like men’s night,” quipped Johnson, who stopped for a moment to peer around at the harried shoppers. “They’re looking at dishes. They’re looking at rugs.
“We’re all in about the same boat,” he said. “I might run into a neighbor.”
The 24-hour tradition dates back to the days when, according to legend, Leon L. Bean got tired of having hunters wake him up and decided to keep the store open at all hours. That was 1951.
The tradition has continued, and some of the biggest sellers remain the L.L. Bean hunting boot, introduced in 1912, and chamois shirts, introduced in the 1920s. The store has closed only twice, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and when Bean himself died at age 94 in 1967.