The Madewell store, on the corner of Market and Middle streets in Portland’s Old Port, expects to open in time for the holiday shopping season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A clothing retailer with over 150 stores across the U.S. will open its first in northern New England this fall on a busy corner of downtown Portland.

Madewell is the latest national brand to set up shop in the Old Port and will be within steps of three others that have opened there in the past decade: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Athleta.

The storefront at 75 Market St. was most recently occupied by Ramblers Way, a Maine retailer of organic wool clothing. The company is owned by Tom’s of Maine founder Tom Chappell and his family, who closed their four Ramblers Way stores to focus on web sales.

The closing of the local brick-and-mortar business has led to the expansion of a national one.

“We’re thrilled to be opening our first store in Maine, and in such a historically rich city like Portland,” Garrett Putney, Madewell’s head of stores, said in a news release. “The city is more vibrant than ever and undergoing tons of exciting growth, so we’re looking forward to bringing our suite of unique services and experiences to the community while offering both our women’s and men’s collections.”

Boutique stores and business groups in Portland have had generally positive reactions, saying they want to preserve the Old Port as a unique shopping destination but feel it balances big names and local lesser-knowns.


“We’re glad to see an empty storefront get filled,” said Cary Tyson, executive director of business group Portland Downtown. “That’s exciting. That’s jobs, of course, and activation of that space. Some of the larger square footages have been harder to fill because it takes a certain kind of presence there to fill those spaces.”

Amy Landry, board president of Portland Buy Local, made a plea for supporting independent businesses in the city.

“Whether that’s a local clothing store, an independent pharmacy, a neighborhood bakery, or a local art gallery, we hope that through our work the Portland community will choose local first and look to national and international companies only when there isn’t a local option that meets their needs,” said Landry.

Madewell said the store will open “ahead of the holiday shopping season” but did not disclose an exact date. On Friday, posters announcing the store and advertising Madewell’s signature denim line had papered windows of the 5,532-square-foot space.


The building has been owned by Portland real estate company East Brown Cow since 2006. Tim Soley, president and CEO, said attracting national retailers to Portland has taken decades of work. Thirty years ago, he said, many of today’s prime shopping spots were ground-floor offices that rolled their blinds down during the day and turned their lights off at night.


“It started with starting to convert those ground-floor spaces to retail uses, commercial uses, that were far more interesting and visually connected with the pedestrians,” he said.

When Urban Outfitters opened on Middle Street, however, local residents and businesses had mixed reactions. Some predicted an influx of shoppers would benefit downtown commerce, while others feared chain stores would push out independent operators.

Angie Worthing of Portland, right, and Jill Hecker of New York City shop at Suger on Commercial Street. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Urban Outfitters today has 250 stores, including ones under subsidiary brand Anthropologie. Athleta is a brand of worldwide retailer Gap Inc. Madewell is a sister company of J. Crew.

Soley said national retailers are more interested in a market where there are other national retailers, but finding the right balance is important.

Businesses do not compete downtown so much as they coexist there, Soley believes. For example, he said, a mom can buy sportswear at Athleta and then take her child to Casablanca Comics for a graphic novel, shopping at a national brand and a local staple in one trip.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Soley said. “They’re all doing better together.”


At Suger, on Commercial Street, operations director Leslie Smith calls the customers “angels.” The store, which also has a location in Biddeford, sells the handmade Angelrox clothing line, as well as jewelry and other products. Smith said shoppers are talking more and more about the importance of buying local.

“Almost to a person, they say the same thing,” said Smith. “The thing they appreciate about Portland is such a focus on U.S.-made, locally made, artisan-made.”

The new Madewell could also attract new shoppers.

Madeline Wight of Portland peeks into Expressly Trends, a clothing boutique on Exchange Street, on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Local customers maybe will come downtown when they wouldn’t have,” she said.

Angie Worthing of Portland and Jill Hecker of New York City made Suger their first stop. The two friends weren’t looking for anything in particular, (“We’ll know it when we see it,” said Worthing) but like to explore new places by shopping. A unique item is another kind of souvenir.

“It triggers a memory,” said Worthing.


On this occasion, Worthing was introducing her friend to a favorite spot. She said she prefers local boutiques over chain stores these days.

“It’s where you can find something that nobody has,” she said.

Bobbles and Lace, a clothing store on Milk Street, has nine locations in New England but only one in Portland. Brand director McKenzie Johnson said tourists come in because they want to find different stores than the ones they have at home, and locals come back because they found a more personalized experience than at a chain store.

McKenzie Johnson is the brand director of Bobbles & Lace in the Old Port. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I actually don’t find them to be our competition,” she said of the national brands. “People who come to Portland are looking for that small- town feel.”

This location opened in 2020, when the pandemic had curtailed travel and shopping for many.

“It’s nice to see Portland booming again,” said Johnson.

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