Roops have been minding the store for 4 generations Family: Roop's Grocery was founded a century ago, and the New Windsor store is now being run by the founder's great-grandson.

August 01, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

A century ago, John H. Roop left the family farm near Sams Creek in rural Carroll County to open a grocery in New Windsor, then a thriving resort town for hordes of summer vacationers from Baltimore.

Four generations later, the city crowds no longer come by train to enjoy the sulfur spring waters, but Roop's Grocery is still a central part of life in New Windsor, still in the family.

L Roop's great-grandson, Neal C. Roop, 38, runs the store now.

But things do tend to remain in families in New Windsor.

Above the store, on "Quality Hill," several Church Street homes are owned by descendants of the wealthy retired farmers who tried to outdo each other in gingerbread trim and stained-glass windows. Four generations of the Hartzler family have been involved in the Hartzler Funeral Home there.

"I think that's why people move here," said Mayor Jack Gullo, whose great-grandfather also was mayor. "They want to become part of something."

Neal Roop is more than just a part of the store. He is the store. He spends 59 hours a week there, six days a week, every week of the year, operating the cash register, stocking shelves, making subs for the lunch crowd.

"I don't know any better, I guess," he said.

Roop has loved the store, with its high ceiling and wood floors, since he was a child. When he was 12 years old, he calculated how old his father would be when he retired and Neal would become owner of the store.

"That's probably one of the first goals I ever set out," he recalled.

He bought out his father in 1990, when H. Cassell Roop was 59, a few years short of Neal's childhood expectations.

When Neal Roop's great-grandfather built the store, New Windsor was home to a college that now is the Brethren Center, an ecumenical organization that helps Third World nations develop resources; and to a now-defunct finishing school for girls.

Turn-of-the-century New Windsor also had something of an intellectual life. Summer vacationers mingled with the college faculty, and the Dielman Inn, now an antiques store, offered nightly chamber concerts.

Roop's competitors then were three other groceries and two general stores, all now closed.

"I think it was the family influence" that kept Roop's Grocery going, said Julia Roop Cairns, daughter of Preston B. Roop, who owned the store from 1913 to 1918 and later co-owned it with his brother Howard C. Roop. Preston and Howard were sons of the store's founder.

Howard Roop took over in 1923 and made one significant change 17 years later. He moved the store from its site near the railroad tracks to Church and High streets, where the two-story, red-brick building still stands. Eventually, Howard's son, H. Cassell Roop, took over.

Other things have changed, too. Roop's no longer stays open until midnight on Saturdays. That tradition, which faded in the 1960s, catered to customers who would drop off their orders, drive seven miles to Westminster to shop and socialize, then pick up their groceries when they returned.

But the narrow aisles are still stacked with cereal, canned goods, bread, soda and household cleaning items, many of them the same products the store has sold for years. In a nod toward the electronic age, Roop's offers the latest videos for rental.

The business still demands long hours. Betty Roop, 35, didn't realize when she said "yes" to Neal Roopin 1979 that she also was marrying the store. She understood gradually that her husband "takes that store very seriously. It's his life."

So much so that Neal Roop and his wife have never had a vacation with their sons, Jason, 16, and Jeremy, 9. The store's only competition these days is a 7-Eleven at the opposite end of town. Neal Roop can't match the convenience store's 24-hour-a-day operation, but he says he beats its prices.

Statistics don't show whether mom-and-pop stores are becoming rarer nationwide. The Food Marketing Institute counted 136,000 grocery stores in 1993 and 131,000 in 1994 but did not indicate how many were mom-and-pop stores.

The threat to a small, independent store is more likely to come from a supermarket than from a convenience store, said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade magazine.

"I would say it has been more difficult for all the independents to hold their ground in the last five years," Metzger said, noting that stores such as Roop's have to excel in service to keep customers who have more choices than ever.

Betty Roop illustrates Metzger's point as she loads her van with groceries every Tuesday and Friday morning and goes on rounds that are part food delivery, part social service, part

friendship.

Roop's, which requires a $10 minimum on delivery orders, is the only food store in the Westminster-New Windsor area to offer delivery. Most patrons are elderly women who live alone. Betty Roop puts groceries away for some, opens milk cartons for those with arthritis and listens to their problems.

She has coped with two crises in her three years on the delivery circuit. Once, she drove out to check on a customer who hadn't called in her regular order and found the woman lying on the

floor. The woman had fallen a week earlier and was unable to get up or call for help.

Another time, Betty Roop arrived at the Westminster apartment of Bertha W. Shreeve, who has Parkinson's disease, and found Shreeve unable to move and the nursing assistant uncertain whether to call 911. Betty Roop made the call.

"Where would you get service like this?" Shreeve said. "She comes in, puts things in the refrigerator."

Whether a fifth generation of Roops stands behind the counter one day depends on whether Jason or Jeremy wants the store.

"The option will be there for them, but if they choose to go another way, we'll be supportive of whatever they choose to do," Neal Roop said.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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