Desire For 'Sneaks' Launched 53-year Delivery Career

Newspaper Vendor Gives Up Home Sales

June 16, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The three squirrels who scoot into Charlie McLhinney's newsstand to be hand-fed nuts will continue to get their daily treat at the News Depot.

But McLhinney's home delivery customers are already missing his friendly demeanor.

After delivering The Sun to Havre de Grace residents for more than 53 years, McLhinney retired from his delivery route June 1.

The lure of earning money to buy a pair of new shoes got him into the newspaper delivery business when he was only 7. "Sneaks cost 50 cents, and my father got me hustling papers in front of the store," McLhinneyrecalls. "It took me two weeks to earn that 50 cents.

He's been delivering newspapers ever since. "When I bought the place from my dadin 1974, it was the only thing I'd ever done in my life except servein the Army during the Korean War," he said.

His father, Walter, started the News Depot in 1923, a time when papers were delivered to the store by railroad cars, instead of by trucks as they are today. Decorated simply with plants, family photos and memorabilia, the storeboasts racks of newspapers from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. There are so many magazines, McLhinney's wife, Mary, can't recall how many she orders each month.

The couple and their grandchildren who work at the store greet most customers by name as they snap up newspapers or lottery tickets.

One testimony to the close relationship between the McLhinneys and their customers is a greeting card hanging on the store wall. The writer was a woman who jokingly thanked the couple for keeping her husband out of trouble in the afternoons at the News Depot.

The same family-like relationship applies to youngsters who worked with them in the home delivery business. McLhinney reels off the names of some of them, says he still keeps in touch with many.

"Once you're one of their boys, you'll always be oneof their boys," said Harford Circuit Judge William O. Carr, who delivered newspapers for the McLhinneys when he was 11.

"The one thingI remember is that they gave an opportunity to all kids of all races," said Carr, 42, who gave up his newspaper route when his family moved to another part of the county. "Black or white, it didn't matter. It didn't make a difference as long as you were willing to do the job. Now, we're talking (about) the 1960s. It was not necessarily unusual, but it's not something people would necessarily have done, either."

Besides working with youths, McLhinney said that one of the bestparts of his job was meeting costumers.

There were some drawbacks-- mainly complaints. But after so many years in the trade, McLhinney learned to have a thick skin about gripes that went with the home delivery job. "We can't please 'em all, but God doesn't either, and wecertainly can't put ourselves on his plateau," said McLhinney.

For one, he doesn't have much patience with able-bodied people who complain the newspaper doesn't land on the top steps. "One man said he has to go down five steps. I told him what I thought of that, and not as nicely as I'm telling you now," said McLhinney.

"But for the elderly, or the handicapped, we put it right up to the door. Most of them don't ask for it to be done, but you know them, and you know it's hard for them."

As he drives along his former newspaper routes -- including detours to all the best spots for views of the Susquehanna River -- McLhinney periodically pulls the car to the side of the road to stop and chat with friends and customers.

He stops a lot.

"We've had a good time for a long time in this business, with the ex-newsboys, their children and grandchildren that are still carrying newspapers," said McLhinney. "Some of the original newsboys are still living. But I think I've been in the business long enough to have a little bit of time to myself."

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