L.L. Bean is used to advising customers on the appropriate gear for bad weather, but the iconic Maine-based outdoor goods retailer is facing a public relations storm that has some consumers in Connecticut and elsewhere threatening to boycott.
The controversy is over Linda Bean, the granddaughter of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean, who funded a political action committee in support of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Bean, who has twice run unsuccessfully for a Maine congressional seat, contributed $60,000 to the Making America Great Again LLC.
That led to an anti-Trump social action group, #GrabYourWallet, adding L.L. Bean to a list of companies it says warrant potential boycotts. L.L. Bean is on the group’s list as “a company to consider boycotting,” which also includes athletic shoemaker New Balance, beer brewers MillerCoors and Yuengling and chewing gum giant Trident.
Some Connecticut consumers are opposed to the idea of an L.L. Bean boycott.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Karen McGarry of Milford as she walked outside the L.L. Bean Outlet store in the Orange Meadows Shopping Center on Boston Post Road in Orange. “I’m not a fan of Trump, but I’m not going to boycott L.L. Bean.”
The Orange store is one of three outlet locations L.L. Bean has in Connecticut. The other stores are in Danbury and South Windsor.
Laura Bush, another Connecticut resident, said that while she is not a Trump supporter, “if I only shopped where people agreed with my politics, I’d have pretty much nowhere to shop.”
Mary Ellen Crawford of Wallingford said she won’t heed calls to boycott the retailer, either.
“It won’t stop me,” Crawford said. “I don’t buy as much because they import too many things that they sold which used to be made here.”
Another Wallingford resident, Susan Huizenga, said that while she does boycott some businesses, such as WalMart, she doesn’t like the idea of joining one against L.L. Bean
“L.L. Bean is a good employer and critical to (the) local economy, so I would not boycott because of one errant family member that has been Trumpified,” Huizenga said. “I do think it is extremely unfortunate that the company got tangled in this.”
But Tom Violante of New Haven called Linda Bean “a great lady.”
“I’ll keep on shopping at LL Bean,” Violante said via Twitter. “Even more now.”
L.L. Bean officials did not respond to request for comment made Friday by the New Haven Register. But in a statement released Jan. 8, Shawn Gorman, executive chairman of the company, said he was “deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L.Bean as a supporter of any political agenda.”
“L.L.Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions,” Gorman wrote. “Simply put, we stay out of politics. Our owners, employees, and customers hold views and embrace causes that are individual and diverse.”
Gorman said more than 50 family members are involved in L.L. Bean, and “we were disappointed to learn that Grab Your Wallet is advocating a boycott against L.L. Bean solely because Linda Bean … personally supported Donald Trump for President.”
“For the last 105 years, L.L.Bean has been singularly focused on offering high-quality, satisfaction-guaranteed products and outstanding customer service in the Maine tradition,” Gorman wrote. “This commitment has allowed us to not only employ 5,000 hard-working people, but also donate tens of millions of dollars to non-profit organizations promoting environmental stewardship, educational attainment and a host of other worthy causes at the local, state and national levels.”
Some who responded through social media said they either already were boycotting the retailer or would consider supporting such an action.
“For me, (it’s) not as much her actions, but Trump’s reactions that cause me to pause and consider alternatives,” John Garvey, a Springfield, Massachusetts, resident said, referring to a tweet the president-elect made Thursday morning, thanking Linda Bean for her donation and urging his followers not to boycott the company. “There are a lot of alternatives to L.L. Bean these days.”
Others agreed that having the option to purchase from other retailers that are competitors of L.L. Bean made their choice easier.
“I will only buy Lands End,” wrote Phil Young, a Texas resident, on Facebook. “L.L. Bean had good quality for a fair price, but their extreme right views have been known since the 80’s.”
San Francisco resident Sabrina Alfin said her outdoor gear purchases will now be made at REI. The Seattle-based retailer has Connecticut-stores in Milford, West Hartford and Norwalk.
“Her support of Donald J. Trump has been rather public and unapologetic,” Alfin said. “And that reflects badly on LL Bean, in my view. REI has a known reputation for sustainable practices and social responsibility; I would hope that their board members practice what they preach.”