LL Bean yesterday announced that it would be vacating its 20,000 square foot store on Congress Street, leaving a big hole in retail services in downtown Portland, according to Mainebiz.
When it opened in 1996, it was seen as a big vote of confidence in the struggling Congress Street corridor. It may be hard to believe today, but back then, just about the entire length of Congress Street was plagued by vacant storefronts, empty sidewalks, and a reputation for sleaze. Recruiting LL Bean to the neighborhood was seen as a coup in the city's revitalization efforts, and helped attract other tenants (like its next-door neighbor Olympia Sports, which moved in soon afterward) to do business downtown.
Congress Street today is resilient enough that the store's departure shouldn't be a big deal - indeed, in recent years, the inside of the outlet store seemed tattier than the street outside. But for a while, anyhow, LL Bean's departure is going to make it even more inconvenient for city-dwellers to procure reasonably-priced shoes and clothing without driving to the damned Mall. However, a large retail vacancy in downtown Portland is too valuable to sit empty for long.
Addendum (11/5): Another possibility being bandied about on Twitter is a Mardens, the surplus and salvage store. Even though a lot of people love Marden's, I can't say I'm one of them - I've found that their stores are usually a disorganized pile-up of big-box castoff merchandise. It's usually a gamble whether or not you'll find anything useful there - but then again, the same was true of the LL Bean outlet. They also seem to be aiming for bigger store sizes these days, so they may not be interested.