LEWISTON — A Boston brewery is in talks to redevelop the former St. Joseph’s Church on Main Street into a brewpub and restaurant.

Democracy Brewing, a cooperatively-owned brewery and restaurant, has an option agreement to purchase the historic church and is moving ahead with redevelopment plans, according to co-founder and CEO James Razsa.

Razsa, a native of Gray, said the old church and its location in Lewiston fit the blue-collar brand of the brewery, and he wanted the brewery’s second location to be somewhere where people are passionate about their community.

According to city staff, the brewery has an option to purchase the building, but has not yet closed on the property.

The property at 251-253 Main St. and 21 Blake St. has been owned by Central Maine Healthcare since 2013, and was recently listed for sale for $250,000 by Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Northeast Real Estate.

According to a required public notice, the city is proposing to use $100,000 in a federal Community Development Block Grant to assist with the estimated $900,000 redevelopment.


City staff said use of the money must be approved through the city’s CDBG program and loan qualification committee.

Two months after purchasing the property for $125,000 in 2013, Central Maine Healthcare filed an application to demolish the building. The parent company of Central Maine Medical Center withdrew its demolition plans in August 2013 to look for alternative uses.

In November 2015, hospital officials were still touting plans to restore the church. It officially went on the market in 2017.

The former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Main Street in Lewiston is being considered for redevelopment as a brew pub and restaurant. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The church was built in 1855, placed on the National Historic Register in 1989 and decommissioned by the Catholic Diocese in 2009.

The original buildings on the property included the Victorian and Gothic-themed church and the three-story, Victorian-style rectory. The rectory was demolished in 2015.

Razsa said he was attracted to the building because it fit the brewery’s vision of recreating the traditional “public house.” He said he sees the building and the future atmosphere as “a beautiful place that people can gather and get to know each other and the neighbors, and pass the hat for people in need.”


“The church is kind of uniquely beautiful and old-world in that sense that fits really well with our brand too,” he said.

Razsa said they’ll spend the next six months on planning and architectural drawings to build out the renovation. Like the Boston location, it will feature a full restaurant and some kind of event space.

Mayor Carl Sheline said Tuesday that he’s excited about the project, especially because it will repurpose a prominent place of character in the downtown.

“The old St. Joseph’s church is a beautiful piece of downtown architecture and I’m thrilled that it will be used again to create community and bring people together,” he said.

According to the public notice, the city will submit a request for the release of the federal funds later this month. A description states the funds will be “working capital to support the project of converting St. Joseph’s Church and adjoining lots at 251 Main St. and 21 Blake St. to a brew-pub restaurant with parking, while maintaining the historic building in compliance with Maine State Historic Preservation Commission approval.”

According to its website, the employee-owned Democracy Brewing opened in Boston in 2018 with a mission to combine “two great American ideals: democracy and owning your own business.”


Razsa said after one year of working for the brewery, employees become eligible to become owners. Existing owners vote on adding new owners, who can buy a “Class A” share once voted in. Owners can then vote and run for the board of directors, which supervises Razsa and others. The brewery has 20 full-time employees and 11 owners, with five likely to be added this year, he said.

Razsa said the same process would be followed for the Lewiston location.

Asked what led Democracy Brewing to Lewiston, Razsa said it’s been on his radar for some time due to its proximity to his hometown, but also because of its “heart.” Many places have simply become unaffordable, he said, both for businesses and to raise a family.

“We want to be in a place where it’s accessible to all people,” he said.

The former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Main Street and the adjacent lot on Blake Street are seen recently in an aerial view. The building is being considered for redevelopment as a brew pub and restaurant. Visit sunjournal.com to watch a short flyover of the property. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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