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Mainers buying outdoor gear as they try to escape coronavirus pandemic

New England retail companies are seeing record sales of winter outdoor equipment as people try to stay outside during COVID-19 pandemic

PORTLAND, Maine — EDITOR'S NOTE: The video on this story is Jackie Mundry's story on pre-holiday ski gear preparation. 

Over the summer, people looking to get out of the house because of the coronavirus pandemic snapped up boats, bicycles and patio furniture, figuring they were safer socializing and being active outdoors than inside. Now that temperatures are dropping, they’re buying snowshoes, skis, boots and winter coats, boosting the beleaguered retail sector.

*“People want to get outside in the fresh air,” said Jay Rock from Arlberg Ski and Surf Shop in Portland. “I feel like people are not too concerned about spending money.”

When shoppers aren’t looking for ways to stay active many are looking to stay comfortable, meaning sales of items like slippers and warm pajamas have also skyrocketed.

Hot sellers tend to fall into several categories — products promoting a healthy lifestyle, working and learning from home, and entertaining from home, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group.

“The cozy comfort business continues to thrive because we’ve now worn slippers every day” since the pandemic hit, he added.

For outdoor gear, cross-country skiing equipment was up 202% and snowshoes were up 221% from August to October, the latest data available, and are still going strong, according to the Snowsports Industries America.

In the comfort segment, slippers are up 70% and the sleep category is ahead of last year, when nearly $8.5 billion worth of pajamas were sold, NPD Group said.

In fact, sleepwear is just about the only area of the clothing sector that’s seeing growth this year, Cohen said. An NPD survey on stay-at-home behaviors indicated about half of Americans reported wearing activewear and loungewear and pajamas all day as more people work from home.

The trend is a continuation of what began in the spring and summer.

People are canceling travel and staying home because of the pandemic, but they’re also seeking to get outdoors to avoid going stir crazy. That made barbecues, outdoor furniture, outdoor heaters, trampolines, canoes and camping gear hot commodities.


All told, it’s shaping up to be decent holiday season for retailers, even though millions are struggling with lost wages during the pandemic. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales, including booming online shopping from home, will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% compared to last season.

At L.L. Bean, off-the-chart sales of bikes, kayaks and outdoor furniture, and now skis and snowshoes, are expected to help salvage what could have been an even more difficult year with steep declines in clothing and other items.

The Maine-based retailer reports that sales of snowshoes are up 358%, and sales of sleds and skis have more than doubled, said spokesperson Amanda Hannah. Cozy slippers are up 95% and sweatpants are up 180%, Hannah said.

“Americans are really searching for outdoor connections and indoor comforts more than ever in this year of unprecedented stress,” she said.

Shopper Kara Douglas of Harpswell picked up some cross-country ski boots, snow pants and other outdoor gear for her family.

She said it’s important for everyone, especially her daughters ages 11 and 14, to get outside.

“They’re spending a lot of time doing school remotely. They’re spending way too much time on screens. For my kids, I just feel like we need to be really, really diligent about keeping them outside and keeping them active,” she said.

Some retailers are struggling to keep items in stock.

At Rodgers Ski & Sport in Scarborough, shoppers looking to get outside are snapping up alpine skis, and they’ve purchased so many cross-country skis that the supply is low, said Bryan Gallant, assistant manager. Customers want snowshoes, but they’re sold out.

“People are outfitting their whole families, and not thinking twice about it,” he said. “People aren’t flinching at the price of the product. If they want something, they’re going to get outside, no matter what.”