FREEPORT, Maine -- Call it imprudent, if you like, but there I was
dodging Main Street traffic to head to a McDonald's for lunch.
What kind of madness would drive me, a world-weary traveler, a
gone-to-seed gourmet, a man of self-admitted taste and distinction,
to forgo a host of local haunts with beguiling New Englandy names
for such mundane fare?
Well, for one thing, this McDonald's is not your typical
fast-food outlet, specializing as it does in that culinary staple
of Maine, the lobster roll. Not that you can't clog your arteries
here with the standard array of Macs, both big and small -- of
course, you can.
But it is the lobster roll -- an unadorned lump or three of
lobster meat, topped with a hint of mayonnaise and encased in a hot
dog roll -- that distinguishes this outlet's otherwise
undistinguished universal menu.
It is not this down-east delicacy alone that makes the
McDonald's of Freeport unique. Rather, it is its benign ambience
that sets the place apart from its aggressively branded
For one thing, like all the outlets and factory stores that
together make Freeport a bargain shopper's happy hunting ground,
this McDonald's is housed in a turn of the century or older
structure, in this case a 130-year-old Italianate and Greek Revival
home known as the William Gore House.
When McDonald's purchased the property, town residents launched
a 1,000-signature petition, a Mac Attack of sorts, that forced the
company to preserve the home's historical integrity, furnish it
with period reproductions and keep its vaunted golden arches under
It is, without question, the town's success in maintaining the
brick and wood period structures that front the main drag and side
streets that keeps its history alive and kicking.
For although wall-to-wall shopping is its lifeblood, Freeport is
not a mall disguised as a town. Rather, it is a community whose
VIPs, for want of a better word, are stores such as Banana
Republic, Coach and Abercrombie & Fitch.
There are, in all, about 80 shops that constitute Freeport's
commercial heart, and they range from nationally branded outlets
such as Cuddledown of Maine and the Gap to local artisan galleries
and unique specialty shops such as Edgecomb Potters Galleries,
Goldsmith's (jewelry) and Ike's WWII shop.
The prime tourist draw -- Freeport hosts 3.5 million visitors
annually, according to Catherine Glover, president of the Chamber
of Congress -- is the L.L. Bean Co., which operates a factory store
off Main Street and a retail outlet so vast it is a destination
The flagship operation, which sells everything from shoes to
home furnishings, features trout ponds, hiking ramps and a 24/7
operating schedule just in case you get a yen to buy a kayak (the
sea-touring Tesla NM awaits you at a price of $2,849) at, say, 3
L.L. Bean also operates what it calls its Outdoor Discovery
Schools, which are designed to teach customers basic skills in
kayaking, fly casting, sporting-clay shooting, cross-country skiing
and snowshoeing -- and hopefully turn them into avid buyers of
I took a turn at the sporting clays, during which my instructor,
a state champion shooter named Keith MacDonald, introduced himself
as "the best shot in the world." He must also be the best teacher
in the world because he got me to knock a few of the clay pots out
of the sky on my first try.
One hour of sporting-clay private lessons goes for $150, while a
one-day course costs $250. Although not commissionable,
participation in the Outdoor Discovery Schools would augment a
client's overall experience in Freeport and on that score alone
makes them worthwhile.
So, when it is all said and done, can a penny-pinching traveler
make up the cost of his vacation with a judicious round of
Town leaders will tell you, of course, that the more you spend
the more you save, although I have always found that the more you
spend the more you spend.
For example, I resisted the impulse at the tony Cole Haan
factory store to buy a $600 leather jacket for $400 (a savings of
either $600, $400 or $200, depending on who does your accounting),
but did buy three pairs of heavy-duty sweat socks for the price of
two in the Timberland outlet for $15, which put me up $7.50.
Knee-high waterproof boots, regularly $74, were going for $39.95
at the L.L. Bean Factory Store (as opposed to the retail shop), but
an "are you nuts" look from my wife was enough to discourage that
Add it up: Two pairs of socks and a lobster roll at McDonald's.
For Freeport, I am a one-man recession.
Freeport offers more than shopping
By Joe Rosen
FREEPORT, Maine -- There is plenty to do here besides shop. Some
• Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center. Located in Rockland,
the Farnsworth houses more than 9,000 works of art, including
contributions by American artists such as Gilbert Stuart and Thomas
The Wyeth collection, comprising works by N.C., Andrew and
James, is showcased in a former church-meeting house across the
street from the art center. Phone: (207) 596-6457; www.farnsworthmuseum.org and www.wyethcenter.com.
• The Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Although this center's
showpieces include American paintings and Italian Renaissance art,
artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean distinguish its
A finial in the shape of a black cat and the terra-cotta
"Goddess Holding a Fawn" are standouts. Phone: (207) 725-3275; www.bowdoin.edu/artmuseum.
• The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Across the college quad
from the museum of art, this facility celebrates Bowdoin College's
association with explorers and explorations, notably treks to
Labrador, Greenland and the Arctic. Phone: (207) 725-3416.
• Swan Island. There are no swans on Swan Island, nor were there
ever any. Moreover, this 1,400-acre blot of land in the Kennebec
River is not shaped like a swan, or any other creature, for that
matter. The island, whose name derives from the Indian word
"swango," which means "island of the eagles," is a nature preserve
maintained by the state.
Lots of wildlife here, especially nesting bald eagles, and lots
of hiking trails. You can reach it only by a flat-bottom mini-ferry
operated by the state from May 1 through Labor Day. For
reservations, phone: (207) 547-5322; www.state.me.us/ifw/education/swanisl.htm.
The agent connection: Lodging, etc.
Accommodations: The three most prominent
properties in town are the Harraseeket Inn, the Freeport Inn and
the Comfort Suites; all pay 10% agent commission.
• The Harraseeket Inn is clearly the top of the line, both in
terms of ambience, aura and accessibility. This 84-room inn, which
is located two blocks from downtown Freeport, features six suites,
24 fireplaces, canopied beds, an indoor pool, charming gardens and
two excellent restaurants -- the formal Maine Dining Room and the
Broad Arrow Tavern.
Originally a bed-and-breakfast, the Harraseeket Inn comprises
two historical structures (1798 and 1850) and one built in 1989,
and though it plays heavily on its period charm, it offers guests
contemporary amenities such as cable TV, air conditioning and modem
Rates for a standard room range from $195 to $260 through Oct.
31. The property hosts agent fam tours and offers the trade a 20%
Call: (800) 342-6423 or book through Worldres and Sabre; Web: www.harraseeketinn.com.
• The Freeport Inn has a north country feel to it, courtesy of
local artwork and its two fine seafood restaurants, the Muddy
Rudder and the raffish Freeport Cafe, a roadside standby. The
property's business class accommodations feature data ports, a
coffeemaker, a refrigerator and a large desk with lamp.
Room rates range from $110 to $140 through Oct. 19.
Call: (800) 4-CHOICE or (800) 998-2583 or book through Worldres;
• The eponymously branded Comfort Suites offers roomy
accommodations and family-friendly amenities such as refrigerators,
microwaves and an indoor pool. In addition, the rooms are equipped
with modem ports, and local calls are free.
Rates for a standard room range from $129 to $199 through Oct.
Phone: (877) 865-9300 or book through any of the major GDSs.
Connections: Nearby Portland Jetport is
serviced by United, Continental, Delta, Northwest, US Airways and
Amtrak's Downeaster service connects to Portland from Boston,
with four roundtrips daily, and several coach operators feature
Freeport as a destination, including Tourco, a New England-based
operator, and Tauck.
Tourco, (800) 537-5378, offers agents commission ranging from
10% to 15% or net rates for groups, and Tauck, (800) 468-2825, also
pays between 10% and 15%, with the range being 15% to 22% for
For additional information, call the Freeport Merchants
Association at (877) 865-1212; Web: www.freeportusa.com. -- J.R.