PORTAGE LAKE, Maine — For more than 120 years, a small store in Portage Lake has been a go-to destination for locals and visitors from all over New England.
Coffin’s General Store, owned by Missy and Matt Boutot, is the only convenience store on a 40-mile stretch of highway between Ashland and Eagle Lake.
Similar stores in Aroostook have closed in recent years, but the Portage Lake business has stayed open due to local ownership and the thousands of tourists who visit the lakeside town. From spring and summer campers to hunters and snowmobilers, a year-round stream of visitors frequents the local hotspot.
Though Portage Lake’s population was 359 in the 2020 census, the number increases when summer residents return. In the winter, Coffin’s becomes a “revolving door” of snowmobile riders, especially from January to mid-March, Missy Boutot said.
“On our busiest weekends, we can see anywhere from 400 to 1,000 riders,” she said.
The Boutots of Portage Lake join a long line of entrepreneurs that began with the store’s namesake family.
Herbert Coffin built the store in 1902 after purchasing a former hotel. His son, Nathaniel “Thannie” Coffin, bought the business in the early 1940s. Thannie operated the store until 1964, when his son Terry and daughter-in-law Carleen Coffin took over.
Since 1987, when the Coffins retired and sold the business, the store has had several owners. Matt Boutot left a full-time position at an Ashland sawmill in 2014, and he and Missy purchased the store and the adjacent post office and redemption center.
The Boutots saw an opportunity to revive Coffin’s after years of financial and legal issues stemming from the previous owner. Most of all, they wanted to make sure the store remained welcoming and convenient for shoppers and travelers.
“It was always a friendly place with nice staff and good food,” Matt Boutot said. “We get people who come from Ashland for our steak and cheese sandwiches and pizza.”
Even with post-COVID workforce shortages, the Boutots have consistently kept 10 to 15 full- and part-time employees. Their son Blayne, a 2021 graduate of Ashland District School, works there part time.
Keeping the store local and family-owned was important for Matt Boutot, a Portage Lake native. His grandmother, Rena Boutot, worked at Coffin’s for 28 years.
Even those new to Portage Lake are impressed with the variety of stock. The store includes essentials like milk and bread, but also sells freshly made pizza, salads and sandwiches, household items, outdoor gear and other staples.
Coffin’s is also the only place north of Ashland to fuel up before rejoining the snowmobile trail system. That’s what Richard Dadamo of New York was doing late on a Monday morning.
On his annual winter visit to The County, Dadamo bought fuel for his snowmobile and ear plugs before heading back to his Eagle Lake motel. Monday was the first time he stepped inside the store.
“I’ve been to a lot of convenience stores but this is one of the more organized stores I’ve been to,” Dadamo said. “They have a little bit of everything.”
Just before noon, dozens of snowmobile riders arrived for a quick lunch and fill-up before heading to their next destination.
Kim Shelley of Gray was on her first snowmobile trip through Aroostook.
“It’s perfect. It has everything you need,” Shelley said.
That type of reaction is exactly what the Boutots want to hear. Besides ordering inventory, mentoring employees and keeping the shelves stocked, they are go-to helpers for people in need.
After leaving her full-time job in Eagle Lake every evening, Missy Boutot can be seen at Coffin’s in the final hour before closing at 8 p.m. And her husband is known for being “a phone call or text away” whenever somebody is in a pinch, she said.
“He’s there whether people need their car battery jump started or need their snowmobile moved to a different location,” Missy Boutot said.
There are always quieter periods, like before snowmobilers come in droves or before summer residents move in. But for the most part, Coffin’s is the busiest spot in one of Aroostook’s quieter towns.
“We’re just a little piece of Portage Lake, but we’re at the center of it all,” Missy Boutot said.