EAST WINTHROP — On a sunny day last year, Travis Mills had stopped his pontoon boat at the north end of Cobbossee Lake to refill it with gas when he received an offer: how’d he like to buy the fuel pumps and everything that came with them, including docks, rental boats, a motel and overnight cabins?

Mills, a 30-year-old Army veteran who lost his arms and legs after surviving an explosion in Afghanistan, had to think about the offer from Andy Wess, who ran Lakeside Motel & Cabins with his wife Sheree for 30 years.

Mills now lives in Manchester and travels the country delivering motivational speeches. He also helps run a foundation that was started in his name and that last summer opened a retreat for wounded veterans in Rome.

After conferring with his family and his neighbor, Zach Stewart, Mills went for it. In January, he and Stewart became co-owners of the East Winthrop institution.

Now, they’ve set goals for its expansion. They’re acquiring new watercraft for the rental fleet, including pontoon boats, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. They hope to add a playground for children and resources for ice fishing, and eventually open a waterfront restaurant.

They’ve also renovated the front-office and begun stocking it with concessions such as beer, wine and custom-roasted coffee, as well as a bigger array of fishing tackle.

Jeffrey Ring, of Seabrook, New Hampshire, has been fishing in the area for 15 years. On Thursday morning, he had just arrived at Lakeside Motel & Cabins and was buying tackle ahead of a weekend outing with his father and several friends.

“It’s a great addition,” Ring said of the jigs and other supplies that would aid in his pursuit of largemouth bass.

Just off U.S. Route 202, Lakeside Motel & Cabins is the host of several charity fishing competitions each year, including the Breast Cancer Awareness Bass Fishing Tournament that happened on Sunday and a May fundraiser for Special Olympics Maine.

Wess, the former owner, happened to stop by his former business on Thursday morning. In an interview, he said he offered to sell the business to Mills after coming to believe that the veteran would keep running it as a family operation. Wess was also encouraged that Mills would continue holding charitable events there.

At the same time, Wess said that Mills and Stewart, who is 36, could bring some new tricks to the old establishment.

“They’re certainly going to be making changes,” said Wess, who is involved with other civic groups and running for Town Council this fall. “My wife and I are retirement age. We’re happy to see two families take over a great business.”

Mills moved to the Augusta area to be closer to the family of his wife, Kelsey. His own parents, Dennis and Cheri, have moved to Winthrop to help manage the motel, cabins and waterfront for him and Stewart.

His partner, Stewart, runs two of his own businesses, an information technology consulting firm called Central Maine Technology and a property management company. Stewart’s wife, Sarah, works as a dentist in Augusta, and both of the new owners have children.

“We really did a lot of negotiating,” Stewart said, estimating it took him and Mills about four months to work out a deal with Wess.

While the business was previously targeting people who stayed there as guests, Stewart continued, he and Mills are trying to attract a broader range of customers who recreate on Cobbossee Lake, even if they don’t necessarily rent cabins or rooms.

“You don’t have to leave here,” he said of people who may live in the area and need fishing line or a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “You don’t have to run to Mulligan’s or Dick’s,” he continued, referring to the convenience store in Manchester and the sporting goods retailer in Augusta.

Mills was initially skeptical of Stewart’s suggestion that they expand the reception area into a small tackle shop, he said, but almost a year into their ownership, he stands corrected.

“This has become our biggest seller,” he said, pointing to a 10-pack of black crawfish lures.

They try to offer their products without any marked-up prices, and many of their lures were running for $2.99 on a recent morning. They have also asked local anglers for suggestions about what to carry.

Going forward, they’d like to move away from the branding of the place as a motel and emphasize that they are renting out lodges. They would also like to weatherize the cabins to make them suitable for year-round rental, and open a restaurant on the property that would fill a need they see in East Winthrop.

They’re also trying to overcome some of the growing pains that beset them in their first-year running the business, including working out a smooth rental system and getting used to maintaining a full fleet of boats, Stewart said.

Travis’ parents, Dennis and Cheri, now live on the property and help with all aspects of the operation, including letting people into their rooms when they’ve locked themselves out. Showing the humor that his son has inherited, Dennis noted that he used to be the one who required that sort of assistance at motels.

“You meet a lot of nice people,” he said of his new responsibilities.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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