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Jim Kenyon: Boycotters Give L.L. Bean the Boot

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 1/17/2017 10:53:40 PM
Modified: 1/18/2017 12:09:20 AM

I am in the L.L. Bean store in West Lebanon, and I am surrounded by temptation. There’s a Fair Isle crew neck sweater marked down to half the original price. Downstairs, I see ice cleats that could prove quite handy in my glacier of a driveway. And the chocolate-covered blueberries strategically placed near the cash registers, how can I resist?

But to remain loyal to the Not My President movement, I must swear off L.L. Bean. And I don’t mean just ordering from its catalogs. The company’s store in the PowerHouse Mall has also become taboo.

L.L. Bean, the retailer of choice for middle-age men like myself who consider Merino wool ragg socks a fashion statement, has crossed over to the dark side.

Trumpland.

Linda Bean, who sits on the company’s board of directors and is a granddaughter of its founder, was recently outed for giving $60,000 to a political action committee (Making America Great Again) that supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Grab Your Wallet, a watchdog organization that opposes the president-elect, placed L.L. Bean on a list of what it considers Trump-friendly businesses to boycott.

Shawn Gorman, L.L. Bean’s executive chairman, has gone into damage control mode, declaring that “we stay out of politics.”

Gorman made it clear that Linda Bean’s political views — and her checkbook — were her own.

On L.L. Bean’s Facebook page, Gorman wrote, “no individual alone speaks on behalf of the business or represents the values of the company that L.L. built.”

Linda Bean, a conservative who has twice run for Congress in Maine, argued on Fox Business Network that the boycotters were trying to get Trump’s blue-collar supporters to turn against him.

“I believe it’s just a smokescreen because the effect of a boycott is to kill jobs — boycotts and bullies kill jobs,” she said.

Trump then entered the fray. In a tweet (big surprise, huh), Trump thanked Linda Bean for her “support and courage.” He ended his tweet with a sales pitch: “Buy L.L. Bean.”

On Monday, MLK Day, I stopped by the PowerHouse Mall to get a sense of whether Upper Valley shoppers were following the president-elect’s advice. (I know his inauguration is Friday, but continuing to refer to Trump as president-elect allows me to remain in denial.)

From what I saw, the store was doing a fairly brisk business. Apparently, the Trump factor — his ability to affect the behavior of people and companies — is real, even among L.L. Bean’s liberal yuppie clientele.

Then again, the heavy store traffic could have had more to do with the post-holiday sale in which L.L. Bean was advertising a 25 percent discount to shoppers who spent $100.

As luck would have it, one of the first people I spotted coming out of the store was Liz Blum, a Hanover Co-op board member and a die-hard leftist.

Was that really an L.L. Bean shopping bag in her hand?

“I exchanged a sweater, and it wasn’t for me,” Blum explained. “I don’t want to support any business that has an owner who contributes to a Donald Trump super PAC.”

Most shoppers I talked with shared David Mercado’s viewpoint about L.L. Bean and Trump. “It’s not an issue for me,” said Mercado, who described himself as a Democrat from Connecticut visiting family in the Upper Valley.

“I’m not a fan of Trump, but I didn’t hear a good reason to boycott L.L. Bean,” he told me.

“The explanation (L.L. Bean) gave was acceptable,” said Tim Rothfuss, of West Lebanon.

As for Trump’s L.L. Bean endorsement tweet, Rothfuss just shrugged. “He seems to have an opinion on everything.”

A middle-age woman from Quechee didn’t think it was appropriate for the president-elect to be telling Americans where they should shop, but was hesitant to give me her name.

Her opposition to Trump was already a bone of contention with some relatives.

“I’ve got a brother that I’m not speaking to right now,” she told me. (I’m guessing that the flannel shirt that she had purchased wasn’t for him.)

I wandered over to the other end of the mall — home to Eastern Mountain Sports. Maybe L.L. Bean’s PowerHouse competition was benefiting from the boycott.

I found Jim Nourse, a retired school administrator who lives in Lyme, trying on a pair of winter hiking boots.

Disgruntled with L.L. Bean? I asked.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m a big L.L. Bean fan. I was over there earlier; they just didn’t have what I was looking for.”

Nourse told me that he had given some thought to the boycott. The challenge is to “sort through what you read,” before deciding if certain actions, such as store boycotts, could make a difference, he said.

That makes sense.

The more I think about it, going cold turkey on L.L. Bean might not be a good move. Having that wool crew neck sweater to keep warm could make it easier to muster the strength to get out of bed for the next four years. Especially if it’s half price.




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