A snail's sales pace Market: At Lingo's, the woman at the register isn't counting the minutes, and neither should you.

July 22, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen

REHOBETH BEACH — REHOBOTH BEACH - A train of receipts runs over the checkout clerk's sensible shoes, which are untied for additional comfort. After six decades of service, these feet should be barefoot on the beach.

Eleanor Lingo has been behind the counter at Lingo's Market for 60 of the store's 100 years. Three generations of shoppers have checked through Mrs. Lingo's stubby counter, where there's no room for groceries to stretch out. Three generations of shoppers have, perhaps, wondered whether Mrs. Lingo rang up all their items in the heap. Did she get the bananas, too?

Of course, she's slow. She's 83 years old. Maybe you are too fast? Ever think of that? Rehoboth, after all, was born in slow motion. A town marker says, "On this site in 1897, nothing happened." Here in so-called lower Delaware, the town is so-called slower Delaware. The place and its people resist being rushed.

Watching Mrs. Lingo peck at the yellow CASH TENDER key - as a kid in a "NO FEAR" T-shirt fidgets - is a study in routine and efficiency. She squints at the green total of $16.16 and holds her squint until the number registers with her. This is not a fast-food market, son.

Do people ever get visibly impatient? "No ... well, they don't let on," Mrs. Lingo says, scanning in the kid's Frosted Flakes. "There's always someone they can talk to in the aisle."

In 60 years, she's never drawn a salary. In 60 years, "I've never not wanted to come to work." Store manager Archie Lingo says his mother's only setback was when she broke her hip a few years back. "I was out of ones," Mrs. Lingo says, "so I walked over to the other register." The wood floor was wet and down she went.

"She came to work with a walker," Archie says.

Mrs. Lingo's late husband, William, ran the market his father, John, had opened in 1898 - one year after "nothing happened on this site." Before her marriage to William, "I had wanted to be a school teacher," Mrs. Lingo says. She became a postmaster for $150 a month because teachers made only $50 a month. Then, she married into the neighborhood market. "Different things happen to you," she says.

It happened to Eleanor Lingo on this site in 1938.

"Beach Life" is a summer-long series of dispatches from the shore.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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