"I will probably go on ordering from the catalog," she said. But, as a self described "touchy-feely" person, she will also go to handle the merchandise at the new L.L. Bean retail store in Tysons Corner.
Along with her fellow "Beanies," Simpson can start her shopping spree when the store opens for business on Friday at 10:15 a.m.
At 76,000 square feet, this will be the 87-year-old company's first retail store outside its Freeport, Maine, headquarters. (While that flagship store is open 24 hours a day, the Tysons Corner Center location will be limited to mall hours.)
Because of its size, the mall management has designated L.L. Bean as an "anchor store," like Hecht's, Bloomindale's and J.C. Penney. Its two levels will include the former Woolworth's location.
Unlike those other "anchor stores," this one might actually sell anchors. Canoes, kayaks and other "outdoor gear" are a major segment of the merchandise.
They will be displayed against a background featuring a 16-foot waterfall cascading from the second floor into a live trout pound, an interactive children's climbing wall, a stone hiking ramp and stone paths connecting the display areas.
The 50-foot glass rear wall provides an outdoors view, along with a display space big enough for boats.
The stained clapboard facade will evoke the company's Maine roots.
William Shea, L.L. Bean retail manager, said that the design was intended "to remind customers how great it is to go hiking with their kids, kayak at the ocean shore or just take their dog for a walk in the woods."
In addition to the outdoor gear that can be purchased for these pastimes, L.L. Bean is noted for conservative fashion. In particular, press representative Mary Rose MacKinnon promised that the store would cater to L.L. Bean turtlemaniacs by displaying a whole rainbow's worth of its classic turtleneck tops, as part of its fall fashion collection.
Since Washington area is probably the conservative-fashion capital of the world (as witness Eleanor Cliff and Mary Matalin on the Sunday talk shows), it's no surprise that 1.4 million L.L. Bean customers live here. They account for many of the 12 million packages shipped last year.
"We have a lot of customers in this area, and that was a lot of the reason for going there," MacKinnon said.
Another is the number of outdoor attractions, including Great Falls National Park. Yet another attraction was the traffic provided by the mall's own 21 million visitors per year.
Eric Kukczycky, the mall marketing director said, in turn, that "We expect L.L. Bean to have a strong impact on mall traffic and sales."
The children's climbing wall is designed to attract the customers of L.L. Kids clothing (also known as "Beanie Babies.") Simpson can find flannel sheets in the third department: home furnishings.
Although 90 percent of its sales are made by telephone catalog orders, L.L. Bean has been branching into the retail field.
With sales of $1.06 last year, it is facing heated competition for the catalog trade from relative newcomers like the 37-year-old Land's End, which claimed $1.37 billion.
Before opening the Tysons store, L.L. Bean had ten smaller retail outlets in the United States. Two smaller retail stores are to be built by 2001, but Shea promises that each will be only about half the size of the Tysons Corner showplace.
Boots are roots
Outdoors gear and conservative fashion were combined in the first L.L. Bean product: the lightweight waterproof hiking boots made by Leon Leonwood Bean. When 90 pairs were sent back due to defects, it proved to be a blessing in disguise: the company built its reputation by refunding the money for them all.
By coincidence, Simpson's first L.L. Bean catalog order, ten years ago, was for a pair of boots.
They, too, proved to be defective, "and when I sent them back, they sent another pair." She is aware of the proud tradition that, "They will take something back even after two years."
The company paid tribute to its origins in the advertisement for the new store. It shows the Lincoln Monument wearing L.L. Bean boots (although not a turtleneck.)
In planning entertainment for the opening weekend, L.L. Bean paid further celebrated its regional roots.
Randy Judkins, a Maine comic and juggler, will perform in the store on opening day starting at 1 p.m. David Mallet, a Maine folk singer, will join him on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. in the mall Fashion Court.
Still following the outdoors theme, John Viehman, host of the PBS program "Anyplace Wild," will appear in the store on Friday at 7 p.m. to discuss his wilderness travels. And the trout pond will provide the setting for no-kill "catch and release" fishing demonstrations throughout the weekend.
Guests may also register to win a Subaru 2001 outback H6-3.0 loaded with camping gear. The vehicle is a special "L.L. Bean Edition."