PORTAGE LAKE — An Aroostook County native and former marine said her purchase of Portage Lakeside Cabins, not far from her childhood stomping grounds, fulfills her longtime dream for a business while allowing her to raise her children in a region she loves.
In a transaction finalized Sept. 13, Shannon Currier purchased the business for $250,000. It's located at 4 Almond Drive with easy access from Route 11 and includes a single-family cottage, four small cabins, bathhouse and garage sitting on 2.7 acres with 420 feet of lake frontage. The seller was Laura Bouchard, according to the Caribou-based Northern Maine Development Commission's business finance division, which helped Currier finance the purchase.
Currier credited Joshua Nadeau, director of NMDC's small business development center, and the center's loan officer David Spooner with providing helpful business counseling as she considered the acquisition.
"The first thing we did was talk numbers," said Nadeau. "We figured out she could support the debt load of the loan she would have on top of other expenses the business would entail. We wrote a business plan, and that came out well. Then we moved to financing, working with our finance department here" to nail down a low-interest loan package that would include money from the U.S. Small Business Administration and other state and federal loan funds.
Portage Lake is a North Woods town with a year-round population of fewer than 400 people, according to the 2010 Census. The municipal website lists lodgings and camps, guide services, three mills and a taxidermy service among primary businesses, along with one store and a homemade jams and jellies spot.
The area has a lumberjack history that evolved in the 20th century into resort attractions. According to the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, 19th century lumbermen from New Brunswick came to Portage Lake looking for pine. The area started to develop with completion of the Fish River Railroad in 1902. Thanks to expansive wilderness and abundant wildlife, plus attendant services and amenities that have grown up over the years, the area has been known as a prime resort area since the 1900s, the chamber says.
That leads to the story of a "Capt. Iverson," one of the first-known owners of the property that is now Portage Lakeside Cabins. Iverson sailed from Norway to New York, then moved to Caribou and built Portage's first mill, in the early 1900s, to make ties for the railroad. It's not clear when Iverson bought the property, but he apparently ran it as a sporting camp, running two steamboats on the lake. It was originally called Iverson Camps, then The Holmes Cabins, then Portage Lakeside Cabins.
Born in Presque Isle, Currier grew up in Oxbow, a tiny "plantation" with a 2016 population estimate of 50. When she graduated from high school, she wasn't interested in college, so she joined the Army. There, her pride was challenged.
"I heard people say, 'She'll never make it out of boot camp,' So I said, 'I'll show them,' and I went into the Marine Corps," she said.
That was in 1997. Currier served as a diesel mechanic, spending part of her service at Okinawa. Children, home life in Oxbow and part-ownership of Wadleigh's Mountain Camps, south of Oxbow, followed. At the time, Currier and her then-husband looked into buying Portage Lakeside Cabins, but the price was too high. Eventually, Currier decided to go to the University of Maine at Augusta, where she's now a third-year business administration student. With graduation set for next spring, Currier earlier this year decided to see if the price on Portage Lakeside Cabins had come down. It had. That's when she approached NMDC.
"At first, it didn't seem realistic to me," she said. "But when I went to NMDC, before I knew it, I was signing the papers."
While the cabins and grounds are generally in excellent shape, the place needs some "tender loving care," she said. All cabins have cooking equipment, beds and other amenities to accommodate guests whatever the season, with activities on tap such as swimming, boating, fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Outdoor space is available for rent for special occasions.
Before the purchase was even finalized, Currier launched into operations, which five or six years ago went from year-round to seasonal, running June through October, with a full slate of bookings. Currier is returning to year-round operation. Preparing for winter clients was pretty simple — filling the fuel tanks and woodshed, taking the dock out of the water, buying a tractor with a snow blower.
Customers include both locals and visitors from away, but there have been fewer customers in recent years, she says. She has taken steps to rebuild the clientele, soliciting feedback from customers about what they'd like to see for services.
In buying the business, her children, ages 12 to 17, were the major factor, she said.
"I wanted to purchase this business to create a stable income for me and my family as well as give my boys a place where they can learn to work and hopefully work throughout their high school years," she said.
Sign up now to get statewide business news each day with the Daily Report