Steve Roop looks out a window Wednesday afternoon in the tasting room at his location on Main Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — It doesn’t take long to get to know the man behind the multi-layer business the public knows as Roopers.

At 63, the former soldier turned entrepreneur isn’t ashamed to say he’s lived a hardscrabble life. Steve Roop has quite literally built from scratch what 30 years later has become a beverage retailer, wholesaler and redemption center behemoth in central Maine.

It all started in March 1992 as a small redemption station on Sabattus Street, built and run by Roop himself. At night he started building out what would become his first beer and wine store. At the time, all the 32-year-old had on his mind was survival.

After training with the U.S. Army in the jungles of Panama, he knows a thing or two about survival. He had already been a hooker and a stripper — that’s a rug hooker at Priscilla Turner Rugs and a stripper at Ellis Paper in Portland — and a successful salesman for Central Distributors.

Sitting in the upstairs office of the original Roopers store, Roop reflected on the past 30 years. “It’s amazing, I’ve gone from a laborer to a salesman, to a business owner. And I had no idea what I was getting into.”

In 1994, Roop opened a second, small store on Main Street. A year later, Roop opened his third store in Lisbon, complete with a deli, a trademark that was later eliminated from his stores. He held on to and grew that business for 10 years before selling in 2005.


Store number four opened on Minot Avenue in 2004, a difficult year for Roop personally, when tragedy struck his family and his original Main Street location caught fire. In 2010, the Lisbon Street store in Lewiston opened and in 2012 he bought a bigger storefront on Main Street and moved his operations from the original store he had built. In 2016 the Oxford store opened.

Steve Roop shows off a fancy bottle of whisky Wednesday afternoon in the soon-to-be-open tasting room at his Main Street location in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Today, Roopers has six retail outlets, four redemption centers and his budding wholesale business, which caters to the hospitality industry.

“We broadened the wholesale from Bethel to Belfast and everything in between,” Roop rattled off proudly. “So we’ve really gained a good reputation on that. I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now.”

Every business has its ups and downs and COVID-19 proved challenging for Roopers as it did for most businesses. “Last year I was dedicated to the bottle redemption center, Roop said. “I put a lot of hours in the redemption center. We were having a tough time keeping people. I think it screwed everything up,” he added, referring to the pandemic.

The bottle redemption centers are the less glamorous end of the beverage business. It’s physical, time-consuming and dirty work. It’s also what Roop loves to fall back on when asked what aspect of his business he enjoys the most. It’s where he got his start, after all, and today, recycling is a moneymaker. 

“It was the fun part for me to do because I’m a physical guy,” Roop said with a smile. “I‘ve always been physical. What built this business was 75% of my physicality and I’ve thrown a lot of bottles around. I’ve done a lot of building. Building is a favorite part of what I’ve done.”


Taking care of his employees has taken on new meaning in this post-pandemic crisis world. Roop said he pays his redemption workers above average and offers his employees benefits, paying 75% of their health insurance and the first half of the $5,000 deductible. “I do that because I have a healthier workforce,” explaining that some employees used to not go to the doctor because they couldn’t afford the deductible of their plan.

Roop is proud of his workers and management team and mentions them every chance he gets.

His generosity extends to the community, where he has donated to schools, sports teams, nonprofits and the many causes he and his wife, Elaine, have touched throughout the years. He won’t say how much, because he prefers not to talk about specifics. “I’ve given away far more money than I’ve ever made,” Roop said firmly. “It’s a lot of money.”  

Retirement is not in Roop’s vocabulary. “I’m always going to have involvement in it because you gotta think all the licensing is in Steve Roop’s name, all of the banking and stuff over the years. It’s something I always gotta keep my fingers in, so Steve Roop is always going to be a part of Roopers.”

Getting specifics out of Roop is like pulling teeth. Asked if he is the biggest beverage retailer in the area, he insists he doesn’t like to brag. But the beer distributors are keeping tabs and the latest report from his biggest distributor shows that one out of every three beers purchased in the Lewiston-Auburn market is purchased at a Roopers. He said they rank third in liquor sales in the state, just behind his Portland competitors.

As for the future, will customers see any more expansion? The question had to be asked twice. There was a brief disclaimer about rising material costs, interest rates, labor costs and uncertainty about the economy. Then there is a piece of property Roop bought in Winthrop, an area that sees big summer business with all the lakes and ponds and outdoor activity. Winthrop could probably use another redemption center, too.

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