Today, Freeport is Maine’s premier shopping destination but was once known for its shoe manufacturing. Freeport’s origins as a “shoe town” began long before L.L. Bean conceived of his now famous hunting boot in 1912. In the mid-1800s, a growing industrial economy created the demand for greater production of items no longer to be consumed locally but to be manufactured and shipped elsewhere. In Freeport, the industrial revolution came in the form of shoe manufacturing.
The company L.L.Bean was founded in 1912 by its namesake, avid hunter and fisherman Leon Leonwood Bean in Freeport, Maine. The company began as a one-room operation selling a single product, the Maine Hunting Shoe (aka L.L.Bean Boot). Bean developed a waterproof boot that he sold to hunters. He obtained a list of nonresident Maine hunting license holders, prepared a descriptive mail order circular, set up a shop in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine, and started a nationwide mail order business. By 1912, he was selling the “Bean Boot”, or Maine Hunting Shoe, through a four-page mail-order catalog, and the boot remains a staple of the company’s outdoor image. Defects in the initial design led to 90% of the original production run being returned: Bean made good on his money-back guarantee, corrected the design, and continued selling them.
The height of shoe manufacturing in Freeport reached its heyday in 1968. In 1972, the Freeport Shoe Company closed its factory in the Mallet building in 1972, making it the fifteenth shoe factory to close in Freeport in four years. In the mid-1980s, Freeport began the conversion to it’s current shopping destination when Cole Haan and other retailers took advantage of the proximity to L.L.Bean and refurbished historic village buildings for retail use.
Currently, over 200 shops and restaurants occupy historic spaces in a shopping village that is quintessentially Maine.