Outlet shopping: Freeport, Maine, vs. Manchester, Vt.
The only thing better than getting the perfect gifts for everyone on your holiday shopping list is getting them at a good discount. For some shoppers, that means storming the barricades shortly after Thanksgiving dinner. Others look to outlet shops for good prices at a civilized hour. Personally, we favor the outlet agglomerations in real communities. For variety and the overall shopping experience, we like these towns. Here’s how they stack up in some seasonal shopping essentials:
FREEPORT: “We should have come here first,” we heard one package-laden woman lament as she and her friend gathered sheafs of discount coupons at Freeport’s information center (23 Depot St., 207-865-1212, www.freeportusa.com), where you can pick up a map that shows every shop’s location. The center is located near the free central parking lot. Rest rooms are across the street.
MANCHESTER: The Manchester & the Mountains Visitor Center (39 Bonnet St., 802-362-6313, www.visitmanchestervt.com) has a unisex rest room and a shop-identifying map — as well as free K-Cup coffee, tea, and cider — but we found only a single coupon for extra discounts. Manchester’s shops are organized in small clusters, making it hard to walk between them, but each group has plenty of parking.
ADVANTAGE: Freeport. Shoppers without cars can come and go by Amtrak. In fact, there’s an 11 p.m. North Station departure on Thanksgiving for $5 that gets you into Freeport in the middle of the Midnight Madness sales. The $5 return is at 4:40 a.m. on Black Friday. Snooze on the way back to prepare for your assault on the hometown malls. For details, go to www.amtrakdowneaster.com.
FREEPORT: L. L. Bean was founded in 1911 when Leon Leonwood Bean came back from a hunting trip with cold, wet feet and created the Maine Hunting Shoe. For the 100th anniversary, the company re-introduced a near replica with leather upper and “red brick” rubber bottom. Boots are only a bitty part of the business for the juggernaut outdoors outfitter.
MANCHESTER: Orvis was founded by Charles Orvis in 1856 to outfit fly-fishermen, and fly-fishing remains the mainstay of the outfitter’s business. Like Bean, Orvis also sells a lot of clothing to people who have no intention of leaving paved roads and streetlights behind.
ADVANTAGE: Freeport. For the ultimate in last-second shopping, Bean is open 24/7/365.
FREEPORT: Only open since summer, Henri Lloyd is the sole North American outlet of this designer of legendary British foul-weather and high-performance yachting clothes, including raingear that makes every sailor look like an America’s Cup winner.
MANCHESTER: The United States has only a handful of Marimekko shops selling the Finnish textiles, clothing, and accessories with strong graphic designs and vibrant colors. Manchester boasts the only Marimekko Outlet, which aggregates and marks down first-quality goods the other shops don’t sell.
ADVANTAGE: Manchester. The Finns know that a pop of color keeps winter blues at bay.
FREEPORT: The town’s outlets have a distinctly all-American flavor, with Jones New York, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Polo Ralph Lauren — though high-tech sunglasses at Oakley ratchet up the cool factor.
MANCHESTER: Shops include some heavy hitters like Armani, Michael Kors, luxury cashmere firm TSE, and glam BCBGMAXAZRIA, in addition to Polo Ralph Lauren and Jones New York.
ADVANTAGE: Freeport. The town supports local talent with the outlet of Portland-based women’s shirt designer Jill McGowan.
FREEPORT: The North Face may have branched out from its mountaineering roots, but even a nasty Maine winter storm is no match for the Summit series of down-filled jackets. If you get lucky, you might even find salesmen’s samples on sale (all in size medium).
MANCHESTER: Not just a maker of split leather boots, UGG Australia also produces street-chic leather coats and down outerwear. Their footwear includes high-fashion high-heeled boots. The UGG Shop isn’t an outlet, per se, but does discount discontinued styles and merchandise from previous seasons.
ADVANTAGE: Manchester. If UGGs are good enough for Tom
Brady . . .
FREEPORT: Outdoor patio weather may be over for the year, but we like Azure Cafe (123 Main St., 207-865-1237, www.azurecafe.com) for its great selection of sandwiches and pasta dishes at lunch — along with such Maine coastal classics as clam chowder, fish and chips, and a lobster roll.
MANCHESTER: There’s a surprising Spanish accent to the lunch menu at Ponce Bistro (4659 Main St., 802-768-8095, www.poncebistro.com), where a Spanish meatloaf sandwich or an olive tapenade and serrano ham sandwich (both on baguette) fuel you for more shopping.
ADVANTAGE: Manchester, at least in this season. Ponce has a blazing fireplace in the front room.
FREEPORT: When Maine Woolens opened just before the midsummer heat wave, Freeporters might have been bewildered. Now it seems a brilliant move. The only retail shop of the Brunswick-based manufacturer of cotton and woolen blankets and throws displays full-price goods in the front room. Check the back room for deeply discounted mill overruns, discontinued lines, and factory seconds.
MANCHESTER: Entering the Yves Delorme shop is a little like walking into a photo shoot for a bedding special in “House Beautiful.” The small store has a big selection of sheets, coverlets, and duvets from the maker of fine French linens. Discounts bring them into the realm of slightly more affordable luxury treat.
ADVANTAGE: Manchester. Every bedroom deserves some French glamour.
FREEPORT: Without the holidays, most American men wouldn’t even own neckwear. The Jos. A. Bank Factory Store arranges its deeply discounted Classic Collection of silk ties by color. They are offered in long and regular. The men’s clothier also sells another 1,000 assorted silk ties (mostly regulars) at even steeper discounts.
MANCHESTER: Five Seasons is an independent store with an outlet mentality. That is, everything is discounted. If Dad has a sense of whimsy, consider one of the snappy needlepoint belts by Smathers & Branson, a company founded by two Bowdoin College roommates. Designs include fishing flies, golf clubs, martini glasses, bird dogs, red crabs, and pink elephants.
ADVANTAGE: Freeport. Bank provides a handy brochure with tying instructions and tips on removing stains.
FREEPORT: Based in Norwalk, Conn., Dooney & Bourke creates elegant women’s handbags in a range of collections from splashy high fashion to suitable-for-the-British-monarch. This factory outlet store offers deep discounts on the lines, which are known for being water repellent.
MANCHESTER: A former “Mademoiselle” editor founded Kate Spade New York with the lofty goal of making the “perfect” handbag. You have to admire the aim, and while perfection forever eludes mere mortals, some pretty swell designs are created in its pursuit. One of them is bound to wow Mom.
ADVANTAGE: Manchester. Kate Spade also sells costume jewelry to give Mom an extra treat.
FREEPORT: Let the man in the family catch an afternoon flick at the all-digital Nordica Theatre with rocking glider and stadium seating.
MANCHESTER: At 10 a.m. on every nonholiday weekday, Dad can take a half-hour tour of the Orvis rod factory (next to the flagship store) to see how the gear coveted by all serious anglers is made.
ADVANTAGE: Freeport. The movie eats up about two hours and you can make Dad take the kids.