LIANE HANSEN, host:
Every year more than three million people visit LL Bean's flagship store in Freeport, Maine. The store has been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for decades. But who really goes shopping for boots or a parka at 4:00 a.m.? Producer Joshua Gleason spent a recent Saturday night on the store's lobster shift and sent this report.
Mr. JOSHUA GLEASON reporting:
At 10 to midnight, sales rep Steve Edgecomb(ph) clocks in for his shift. Steve's been keeping this largely nocturnal work schedule for almost 15 years, and strangely enough he doesn't seem to miss the daylight hours.
Mr. STEVE EDGECOMB (Sales Rep): I went to college to become a teacher and I held out hope that that was going to be where I was going, but I actually fell in love with working on third shift for LL Bean. Every night you come in it's something different.
GLEASON: Unsurprisingly, there aren't many people here at this hour, but there are some. It's Will Mayo's(ph) last night at home before he leaves to start his freshmen year at Worcester Polytechnic, so he and his friends decided that, just for kicks, they'd look at every single thing in the store.
Mr. WILL MAYO (Customer): We got to relax in the tents area, sit down and take a nap, tried all the cool comfy chairs. It was either this or Wal-Mart. So...
GLEASON: The free coffee that LL Bean offers from midnight to 6:00 is a big draw. I found Greg Behm(ph) and his chums lounging about the home section on the second floor like it was their own private café.
Mr. GREG BEHM (Customer): There is really not a lot for me to do in Maine. I'm not 21 yet. Stuff in Portland closes pretty early. So you got to find stuff that keeps you going.
GLEASON: Greg says he comes here once a week.
Mr. BEHM: You don't get really bothered or heckled by the employees here at night. They kind of just let you be, let you browse, let you do your thing.
GLEASON: Greg's right. The employees don't discourage people from just hanging out. There's no one coming down the aisle asking, can I help you? It's an unusually casual atmosphere for a retail store.
By the time the clock strikes 3:00, there are no customers to be seen. The staff busies themselves with refolding clothes.
So how many things do you think you fold on a given night?
Ms. LIZ McDOOR(ph) (LL Bean Employee): Well, I counted one fixture and there were about 120 sweaters on one fixture and I usually do 10 or 15. I could take care of your closet all right.
GLEASON: That's Liz McDoor. This is a second job for her, as it is for a lot of third shifters. Some do it for the extra money. But many, like Liz, who works by day as a librarian at a high school, say they need the extra pay to make ends meet.
Ms. McDOOR: It's a very strong will to stay awake sometimes, but I get by.
Unidentified Male: One more chance at coffee?
GLEASON: It's a little after 6:00 and the last cup of free coffee is poured. Customers start to populate the store once more. But Sheila Town(ph) isn't here to shop. She uses the store as something of an indoor playground for her daughter Hunter, who's two and a half.
Ms. SHEILA TOWN (Visitor at LL Bean): It's seriously like our daily thing. We'll come in here and then she climbs on the mountain in the shoe department. Then we crawl around the tents. My husband doesn't love it because I'm always here at 4:00 in the morning going, That's a cool bag. Ooh, look at that. You know, it's kind of like window shopping.
GLEASON: Sheila can count on LL Bean to be open whenever her kids feel like coming over to play. The last time the store closed was for the death of LL himself in 1967. So it's unlikely that anything will spoil Hunter's daily crawl through the tents. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Gleason.
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