L.L. Bean making tracks to Broadway in New Haven

NEW HAVEN >> The mobile “boot” — size 747 — was the dead giveaway.

L.L. Bean’s bootmobile backed into place on the traffic island off Broadway Monday to signal the next business Yale University will add to its concentration of shopping options in this part of the city.

The two-level, 9,000-square-foot store is scheduled to open in summer 2018 as the larger retail component of the graduate student housing under construction at 272 Elm St.

Jamie Gull, vice president of retail real estate at L.L. Bean, said it will feature “curated” merchandise aimed at customers in Greater New Haven.

“We know people here ... in the Greater New Haven area love L.L. Bean because we have so many of you today who buy from us online and from catalogs,” Gull told the crowd of city and Yale officials and workers at the announcement.

The store will also feature L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School, where classes will be offered in various activities, such as kayaking and fishing, although the specifics of this store’s programs have yet to be decided.

Gull said he does not usually attend celebrations at locations older than L.L. Bean, which was founded in 1912.

The announcement was made on New Haven’s 379th birthday, in the middle of the Yale campus, a university founded in 1638.

L.L. Bean has an outlet store in Orange and other full-priced stores in Danbury and South Windsor with so far 34 across the country.

The store will be located next to Trailblazer and across from Denali, which are independent outdoor stores located in New Haven, Branford and Trumbull, as well as at The Shops at Mohegan Sun and in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

Asked what it will mean to those stores and L.L. Bean in New Haven if they are only feet apart, Gull said he thinks it will benefit both.

“I think it is going to be good for both of us because it means someone looking for outdoor products will have a central hub to come to,” Gull said. This was echoed by Matthew Nemerson, economic development administrator in New Haven, as well as Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven affairs and university properties at Yale.

“We are excited. We think this will be a destination for outdoor wear that will draw more people to the market,” Zucker said.

A manager at Trailblazer had no comment on the upcoming competition.

Mayor Toni Harp said the new business represents more progress for the city. She called Yale University Properties “among the most responsible and conscientious landlords” in New Haven.

Nemerson said they will work with L.L. Bean on a job training program to help fill the 60 jobs the business will feature.

Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development, reminded the crowd of the retail groups that have located at Elm Street, Broadway and York Street since 1998. There has been turnover, with American Apparel the latest to close up shop, but it is the only empty space at the moment.

Close to where L.L. Bean will be, there is The Apple Store, Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, Barbour, Kixters, Gant Campus Store, Origins, Barnes and Noble College Store, Maison Mathis and Tarry Lodge, with more on York Street and along Chapel Street, all under the heading of The Shops at Yale.

“Even our academic buildings in the Broadway area, are first and foremost retail to serve the community,” Alexander said. Yale is one of New Haven’s largest taxpayers because of its extensive list of commercial properites. In addition to national brands, Alexander said there are “a lot of local independents you won’t find in shopping malls.”

Also, on nights and weekends, the parking used by Yale employees is open for free to the public.

The man who says he has the best job at L.L. Bean is Keith Smith, one of the drivers of the Bootmobile that made the trip from Maine to New Haven.

The one-story-high, 20-foot-long boot replica features a steel frame over an F-2 Super Duty Ford pickup that was covered in foam in the shape of the boot and then overlaid with fiberglass.

Smith said they have traveled as far west as Colorado and south to Virginia. In the summertime, and when they visit campuses, they will pull out the camping equipment they use for displays and stay outdoors, rather than in a motel. Other times, they get to bring along Millie, a yellow lab, who is part of the marketing department.

“It becomes an event,” Smith said when he shows up at a scheduled stop. As they travel on the highway, “people will hold up catalogs and give us the high sign.”

L.L. Bean was in the news in January when grabyourwallet.org called for a boycott of the company after Linda Bean, granddaughter of the company’s founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, made a $60,000 donation to a PAC, Making America Great Again LLC, that was supporting Donald Trump.

The company issued a response at the time on Facebook that it does not have a political agenda.

“Like most large families, the more than 50 family member-owners of the business hold views and embrace causes across the political spectrum, just as our employees and customers do. And as every member of the family would agree, no individual alone speaks on behalf of the business or represents the values of the company that L.L. built,” Shawn Gorman, LL. Bean executive chairman, wrote.

“L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions. Simply put, we stay out of politics. To be included in this boycott campaign is simply misguided, and we respectfully request that Grab Your Wallet reverse its position,” Gorman said.