The L.L. Bean store next to what's commonly called "the pit"
When Cathy Davis, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber, heard the L.L. Bean store is moving out of downtown Burlington to Williston, she wondered if the many delays in the neighboring CityPlace mixed-use development were a reason. L.L. Bean has been open in downtown Burlington since 2014. The retailer is right next to the stalled CityPlace site, commonly known in Burlington as "the pit."
“It’s disappointing to see them leave,” Davis said. She said the retailer had probably expected to have an interior entrance linking it to CityPlace. “Obviously that entire project is taking longer than I think most people expected it to.”
Finney Crossing, a mixed-use development in Williston, announced on Facebook recently that L.L. Bean will build a new store that will open in the summer of 2022 between Healthy Living and Union Bank.
L.L. Bean, a Maine-based global chain that sells clothes, outdoor gear and home furnishings, is one of the headliners in CityPlace Burlington’s promotional materials. But the developers of the stalled mixed-use development need to complete their financing arrangements before work begins. And while some legal actions against the developers have been resolved, two lawsuits are still pending in Vermont Superior Court.
Davis said L.L. Bean will be missed. A large, well-known retailer draws shoppers downtown.
“It’s an activity in and of itself, and it can be a draw that brings more business to the downtown and makes the downtown more lively,” she said. Downtown Burlington has lost other national retailers in recent years, including the Gap and Eddie Bauer.
Williston, meanwhile, has become a popular site for national chains, and is already home to REI, another outdoor retailer.
Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) was chair of the Williston Selectboard in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Williston’s large shopping area was being developed. Lyons said planners in Williston saw the town's shopping area as a regional hub for Richmond, Hinesburg, St. George and the Williston area, but didn't expect to compete with Burlington.
“But obviously that has transitioned a great deal,” said Lyons. “I don’t know what pressure this is going to put on Burlington in terms of their loss of retail advantage in the state.”
Davis noted that while L.L. Bean's impending departure is bad news for Burlington, downtown appears to be busy this summer. Hotels are reporting they’re more heavily booked than usual; restaurants look busy and sidewalk traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, she said.
And, she said, Burlington continues to offer something Williston can’t. “There is nothing like wandering Church Street on an afternoon and stopping to have lunch,” she said. “While there is shopping and dining in Williston, it’s just not the same experience; it caters to different needs and different interests.”
CityPlace developer Don Sinex had speculated to some local media outlets that L.L. Bean's move was at least partly prompted by problems with theft and the presence of homeless people downtown.