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Updated: December 20, 2023

Cash registers jingle with holiday sales at Renys, LLBean

Store interior Photo / Renee Cordes L.L.Bean in Freeport is all decked out for the holidays with merch from stocking stuffers to boxed sets of edible items from Stonewall Kitchen.

'Tis the season to be spending, and two of the biggest names in Maine retail are ringing in the merry. 

“We’re up just a little bit for the season. We’re optimistic,” John Reny, president of Renys department stores, told Mainebiz this week during the height of the holiday shopping. “Our stores always have lots of stuff to sell right up to the end, and our customers know this.”

Top sellers this year at the family-owned chain: Carhartt outerwear, socks and winter accessories, along with perennial Christmas faves from flannel shirts to sleepwear — all “stuff you need to live in Maine,” as Reny puts it. Candy and other food items are also huge, along with wrapping paper, he said. 

Renys kicks off its holiday season early, with a sale at all of its stores on the first Saturday of November, and tables full of free pastries and hot coffee. Reny said the tradition started about 40 years ago in Bath and the occasion has become the retailer's biggest day of the year.

"Fun for everyone," he quipped.

Table with baked goods
Photo / Renee Cordes
Renys' early-bird sale in Portland this year featured free baked treats and hot coffee for bargain-hunting shoppers.

At a time when many large retailers are scaling back or even going under, Renys is getting ready to expand to Bangor in 2024. The Newcastle-based retailer, whose roots go back to 1949, is planning its 18th location, a 31,000-square-foot store near the Bangor Mall.

“The big stores have already given up,” Reny said. “Renys has not. We have been in business going on 75 years [and] we know how to do it.”

Busy at Bean

Meanwhile in Freeport, business is bustling at L.L.Bean amid a $50 million campus makeover. The area was a beehive of activity on Saturday, with lines outdoors in mild weather for photo ops with Santa and his reindeer, and for free hot chocolate. Others were taking group photos in a snow globe or trying out the curling lanes. 

“Historically, the last two weeks of the season are the busiest and that is proving true again this year,” spokesman Jason Sulham told Mainebiz. “In recent days our customers are showing their loyalty and resilience, which we greatly appreciate.”

Earlier in the season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were relatively strong, as were in-store sales, “which shows that the in-person shopping experience still matters, he said.

Ragg wool items, sweater fleece and snow tubes remain top holiday sellers, joined this year by men’s denim jeans, insulated utility outerwear and new puffer blankets, Sulham said.

Nationwide picture 

Nationwide, holiday spending is projected to reach a record this year. The National Retail Federation forecasts spending growth of 3% to 4% this year, to between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion.

While that represents slower growth than the past three years, the projection is consistent with the average annual holiday increase of 3.6% from 2010 to 2019, as shown in the chart below.

“It is not surprising to see holiday sales growth returning to pre-pandemic levels,” Matthew Shay, president of the Washington, D.C.-based trade association, said when the forecast was released in early November. “Household finances remain in good shape and will continue to support the consumer’s ability to spend.”

Source: National Retail Federation
Projected holiday spending growth of 3% to 4% this year is consistent with the annual holiday increase of 3.6% from 2010 to 2019, according to the National Retail Federation.

Bean's Sulham said he finds the National Retail Federation's forecast “a bit rosy.”

“Some retailers for sure will hit sales growth at that level, but across the industry many retailers have had to heavily rely on promotions to drive sales due to their overstock and pricing,” he said. “Conversely, we have confidence in our price-to-value equation and therefore do not rely on promotions to the same extent.”

Bean, for example, offered free shipping through Dec. 20, but has not had to discount prices “because we provide great value at our normal pricing levels,” Sulham said. “A lot of credit is owed to our supply chain team for doing a remarkable job managing our inventory levels.”

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