KENNEBUNK, Maine -- Summer visitors to southern Maine have their rituals and pilgrimages, such as chowing down on fresh lobster along Route 1, strolling downtown Ogunquit, and trawling the outlets of Kittery.
But there's another ritual that visitors have practiced for two decades: stocking up on Tom's of Maine toothpaste at discount prices. And tourists are not the only ones to take advantage of the outlet store near the company's corporate headquarters in Kennebunk, though they are the ones who buy enough to get them through the winter.
''It's the funniest thing you've seen, people leaving the store with big boxes full of toothpaste," said Cameron Wilson, the store manager. ''They stock up for the year. They'll come to the register saying, 'This is for my kids. This is for my neighbors. These are going to Iraq.'
''People really seek us out," he said. ''I've worked in a lot of retail jobs and it's never been like this."
But of course Tom's of Maine is different. The 36-year-old company, started and still operated by Tom and Kate Chappell, is known for its all-natural toothpaste. It also makes and sells other oral-care products, along with deodorant, shampoo, soap, body wash, and shave cream. You'll find all these products, probably more than you knew existed, at the outlet store.
Until last spring, the store carried other natural-care products along with Tom's and called itself Tom's of Maine Natural Living Store. But the focus has switched solely to Tom's products because that's where the demand is, said Susan Dewhirst, company spokeswoman.
On Feb. 1, after a 10-day hiatus, the store, now called Tom's of Maine Outlet Store, reopened in a smaller space two blocks from the original site in the building of the corporate headquarters.
The absence of non-Tom's products means more shelf space for ''factory seconds," items that have been dented or dinged before being packaged or those with packaging flaws, such as crooked labels. The damaged but still usable goods are the store's biggest draw.
In general, first-quality merchandise is at least 10 percent below suggested retail, Dewhirst said, and seconds are usually at least half-off the retail price. Discontinued items are discounted even more.
Devotees might want to know that the newest addition to the Tom's lineup is Natural Whole Care Fluoride Toothpaste and Toothpaste Gel. The toothpaste comes in the new flavor of cinnamon-clove, along with peppermint, spearmint, and wintermint. The gel comes in cinnamon-clove, peppermint, spearmint, wintermint, and orange-mango.
And the store also carries a selection of Tom's merchandise, such as tote bags, hats, and T-shirts -- made from organic cotton, of course.
With an ongoing policy of giving 10 percent of its profits to community organizations and its partnerships with nonprofit organiza-tions, Tom's makes spending money a little less painful. And its factory, 12 miles to the west in Sanford and open for tours weekdays during the summer, is now powered by wind energy.
Contact Diane Daniel at email@example.com.