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Freeport, Maine: Shopping and Exploring

Freeport, Maine: Shopping and Exploring
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Of course, you’ll have to wait until a little later in the morning for that. Things are still pretty dark everywhere except at L.L. Bean at 5 a.m.
Anne Klein: 10:12 a.m.

A field guide to shoppers in Freeport includes three chief species. There are the Hit and Run shoppers, like the hunters who need only tent stakes and three-legged folding camp stools and want to be back on the highway within 15 minutes, tops. Then comes their opposite, the Snackers, who move with a somnambulant shuffle down the sidewalk with ice cream cones or pastries in hand. They pause in front of each shop, listening for a small whisper that might lure them in to sniff the wares.

And then there are the Sharks, who know precisely what they want. These are type A people whose prey is bargains with a capital B. They know what the prices are on Madison Avenue in New York, they know how to tell if it’s an overstock of the original or a cheaper, outlet-branded knockoff sharing a label. They must always keep moving, and they are undistracted by chum.

Guided by some internal radar, they move up and down the racks of clothing with a choppy gait, like that mother and grown daughter team over there, dressed nearly alike. They move briskly, then divide up at the racks in Anne Klein, walking down either side and reporting on their findings with a running commentary. Just down the block at Polo Ralph Lauren, three people shop this morning as they chat on Bluetooth cell phone headsets (“We’re in Saco!” one says loudly).

Downtown Freeport has the feel of a classic small-town main street — a narrow commercial corridor of eclectic and trim architecture, some historic, some not, that divides in a gentle Y near the middle of town. (That’s a footprint from the earliest settlement; coastal villages often had such intersections to allow 100-foot masts to be brought down from the woods, then backed out to the landing for outbound shipping).

Yet it’s a village that seems somehow askew: Instead of hardware stores and used-book stores, it’s filled with celebrity brand shops like Brooks Brothers, The North Face, Gap, and Banana Republic, all occupying small shops and homes (Abercrombie & Fitch is in the old 1905 Carnegie library, and even McDonald’s is in a tidy center-chimney Georgian).

But tucked among them — and often missed by the Sharks — are worthy local outlets and shops. At Abacus, an arts gallery with four locations in Maine, you ascend simple granite steps into a plain home. But once inside, you’re awash in splashy colors and swingy jazz. It’s the perfect antidote to a November monochrome. There’s furniture and jewelry, bright prints, lustrous woodwork, and a quirky collection of three-dimensional photos crafted by Scott Matyjaszek.

Farther down Route 1, you’ll find other shops missed by many, including Weathervanes of Maine, another business with a handful of New England locations. The second generation of McElvains are crafting wonderful adaptations and replicas of classic weathervanes — geese, eagles, baseball players, sailing ships, and a heron launching into flight.

South Freeport
Town Wharf: 2:55 p.m.

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