Lloyd’s isn’t just a place to buy groceries. The Lewes store connects customers to a simpler, and perhaps more satisfying, time.
Should you find Libby Lynch, who was born in Beebe Hospital 90 years ago, sitting on her porch at Market and Third streets in Lewes, she’ll be happy to reminisce about “the old days” when locals bought most of their clothing, home goods and groceries in town.
It might seem like those days are gone forever — unless you’ve visited Lloyd’s Market on Savannah Road, which has been owned and operated by Lloyd and Dottie Purcell since 1971. The market today is much as it’s always been, with quaint signs on the large front windows advertising specials, chickens turning on a rotisserie next to the fisherman’s cooler where fresh crabmeat and oysters are kept on ice, and four cozy aisles where a cart can be loaded with a week’s worth of groceries in short order.
“I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that store right here in town,” Lynch says after a recent shopping trip, where Lloyd’s staff and a neighbor who arrived at the same time lent her a hand. “I think I’ve known everyone who’s worked there — they’ve all been really good people.”
Photos of many store employees are prominently displayed near the entrance. Some have worked at Lloyd’s for decades, forging strong connections to customers and to the Delmarva farmers who supply more than 90 percent of Lloyd’s produce during the summer months. Among those farmers are 10-year-old Cailan Wilkinson and his 5-year-old brother, Aiden, the unlikely purveyors of Brothers Organic Produce. The boys’ family began growing vegetables at their Mulberry Street home in Lewes in 2012 before moving to a larger property on Gills Neck Road last year. Today, the Wilkinsons count on Lloyd’s as a first stop when they bring their harvests to market.
Their mom, Melanie, explains how the relationship with the store began: “The boys started out with their stand by the sidewalk and by making brown bag deliveries to a few people in town. But when it came to thinking beyond that, my husband, who’s a local, knew exactly where they could go. He made a call, and Lenny met them at the back door, and told them he’d be happy to sell their produce.”
Lenny is Lloyd’s son-in-law. He’s worked at the store alongside his wife, Amy, and Lloyd and Dottie’s son, Darren, for 20 years. They all enjoy sharing memories of the early days, when Dottie — driving her red pickup known as “Big Red” — procured much of the produce from farmers on the back roads from Dover to Lewes. And, as de facto spokespeople for Lloyd, who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, they also share a special kind of pride in the store’s unique way of doing business.
“There’s this cliche about small markets — people automatically think they’re going to have to pay more, until they come in and see that’s just not true,” Darren says after a long morning spent stocking shelves. “No one in this family’s getting rich from this store, but we’ve survived by keeping prices low. Plus we all really like it when people come in and talk to us about things that are happening in their lives.”
That friendliness among employees is greatly appreciated by many customers. “Lloyd’s is the heart of Lewes,” says Jim Paslawski, co-owner of Honey’s Farm Fresh restaurant a few doors down Savannah Road. “Old-timers and new folks both take time to stop in and share the gossip, yap about the tourists and moan about the heat. They have the place stocked with just about everything you need.”
Another shopper echoes that last point. “It really is amazing how much Lloyd’s can pack into such a small footprint, including over-the-counter pharmacy stuff,” says Jean Whiddon, who appreciates having a market in town and avoiding trips out to Route 1.
While meeting these everyday needs is a priority at Lloyd’s, the staff is quick to respond to requests for new items, including many suited to more epicurean tastes.
“One thing I’ve seen is people having a lot more knowledge about organic stuff,” Darren says. “They’re also asking for premium products, like Angus steaks, and rotisserie turkeys and specially cut hams and rib roasts for the holidays. If a customer asks for something, we’ll get it in. Sometimes it becomes a best-seller.”
Although Darren and his family believe customer loyalty is rooted in the market’s products and service, people around town also cite the store’s long-rooted place in the cultural life of Lewes. In a note written to Lloyd in April 1998, local historian Hazel Brittingham reminisced about spending time as a child in the store when it was owned by the Prettyman family during the 1930s:
“I recall the small lunch room off to the right, where your meat department is now. I also recall a lovely bar-type structure all across the back with a counter and stools. Mrs. Prettyman would let us children play there if Mr. Prettyman wasn’t in the store.”
The store predates even those recollections. It was built by Glenwood Harrington in 1929 and sold to Jacob Prettyman in the early ’30s. In 1946 the Prettymans sold the market to Frank Robinson, who operated it for more than two decades before he sold it to the Purcells. In a December 2000 Cape Gazette story by Dennis Forney, Robinson remembered that “in the early years we made sandwiches every day for the school kids because they didn’t have a cafeteria at the time. For 10 cents they’d get a sesame seed roll with a piece of baloney and cheese and mustard, and for another nickel they’d get a soda.”
Lloyd, who graduated from Lewes High School, where he dated Dottie, worked at Tom Best’s hardware store and the A&P before going to work for Robinson in 1963. When the owner decided to retire, he asked his employee if he would like to buy the store. Lloyd didn’t have enough money, but Frank said he would take payments and directed him to a grocery wholesaler who would finance the purchase.
Though many longtime customers believe the tireless proprietor deserves more down time, Lloyd still works in the store almost every day. On the Friday before this year’s Fourth of July celebrations, he was joined by 19 employees. All were busy preparing for what Lloyd referred to as “the granddaddy of all weekends” as he loaded the cooler with three times the usual amount of fresh crabmeat and apologized for not having more time to chat about the store’s history.
“We started prepping for this weeks ago,” Darren said later that day in the tiny office, situated within the stock room. “Everyone will be here all weekend and then afterwards we’ll spend a lot of time making records of what sold and what we could have done better for next year. Tomorrow and Sunday you’ll see a line of people 10 feet long, but they always seem nicer and more relaxed than they’d probably be out on the highway. We’re all here to do whatever we can to make them happy while taking care of our dad and mom too.”
Darren’s appreciation for intergenerational connections is shared by the Wilkinsons, who enjoy spending time with older Lewes residents because they always know they’ll hear interesting stories about the area’s history. For Melanie, these conversations are especially important in helping her boys understand the values of small-town life.
“It’s not like you can just set up a stage and have role models for your kids. You need to find them where they are,” she says. “We found them at Lloyd’s, and through the people whose lives are touched by having the market right here in town. Five years down the road when [the boys] are growing and selling more, Lloyd’s will still be the first place they go because they’ll always know where they started and will always return the kindness that’s been shown to them. In that way, the door to Lloyd’s really has become a door to their future.”