Freeport, Maine is well-known as a summer shopping destination with its outlets and other stores. But is it still a dominant retail hub on Black Friday, as more and more people choose to buy online?
Anecdotal and numerical evidence shows Freeport has taken an overall retail hit from the Internet.
Freeport retail dollars dipped 20-percent or $15,000,000 between 2014 and 2018, an August Portland Press Herald article compiling state and town data showed.
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At the same time, the newspaper reported Freeport now has a retail vacancy rate of eight percent.
Sharon Ober, who has shopped in the town with her sisters and other family for 25 years, says she’s seen fewer lines and crowds in 2019 than recent years.
“The cashiers are saying it, as well,” Ober said. “Last night when we were in Walmart, there were no lines whatsoever.”
Still, a number of people did brave breezy, chilly conditions to get bargains and staff at some stores took notice.
“We’ve had people coming in since we’ve opened,” said Michelle Snape, who works at Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars. “It’s just been non-stop, it’s been great.”
Snape says the store's success drawing customers in while some big box stores have closed lies in its ability to sell unique products, like a line of food items from Italy hard to find elsewhere in the United States.
Down the street at Island Treasure Toys, store manager Jennifer Friant said the start to the holiday shopping season in Freeport has been “a little quiet” but Black Friday was “great so far” as of Friday morning.
Like Fiore, Friant says the toy store offers unique items to keep customers, many of them local, coming back.
She also says it helps that the store allows lots of hands-on testing of toys so kids and parents can pick ones they really like.
“I think when you have a small business like us where it’s very hands-on, very customer focused, that there’s people out there that still really enjoy that,” said Friant.
The National Retail Federation expects 165 million people to shop in-store and online this weekend, according to NBC News.