Diane Ternahan makes sure that shoppers have access to everything they could ever need.
photograph by Rob Nicholson
Jim Johnson of Dover and his son Jimmy dig through a mountain of flip-flops. Jimmy’s mom, it seems, has broken one of her flip-flops, the only footwear she has with her. It’s causing a glitch in their day trip.
Though prices start at $1.99, the guys don’t want the bottom-of-the-line, plain Jane flip-flops; Jimmy’s mom prefers footwear with a bit more flair.
So while mom waits in the car, they keep looking, working deeper into the pile, checking sizes and trim on dozens of pairs until they settle on a $7.99 olive drab set with striped green trim in a size 7. “Perfect,” says a triumphant Johnson. “Exactly what I was looking for.”
For nearly 40 years, that’s the way it has been at Rhodes 5&10 in Bethany Beach. A beacon for beachgoers and a haven for homeowners, it has provided retail rescue for those in search of everything from sun blocks to building blocks.
The vibrant storefront on Garfield Parkway is a landmark. It’s the go-to spot for tired teens looking for a cold Snapple, weary grandmothers in search of the latest Stephen King paperback and huddled masses yearning for discounted sweatshirts.
“We try to stock a little bit of everything,” says Diane Ternahan, whose father, Arnold Rhodes, opened the store in 1969.
Indeed. In front of the store, passersby are greeted by a $10.99 inflatable shark. Wacky noodle floats are stowed in a cardboard carton the size of a washing machine. Hand-printed signs taped to beach chairs extol the virtues of different models, such as Lays Flat, Over 30 and Big Kahuna.
Inside, between the sandy linoleum floor and drop ceiling, there are three types of flyswatters and 10 varieties of flashlights. You’ll find toothbrushes, tampons and tweezers, as well as ice cube trays, ash trays and serving trays. There’s an ATM for those who want a spot of cash, a key-cutting service for customers who need extras for visiting guests and cool reggae music in the air.
Near the bubble blow and rubber cobras, there is an entire hermit crab department, where fishbowls are filled with 99-cent snail shells. Mini-aquariums are lined up like colorful beach townhouses on one shelf. Mesh cages are stacked on the next shelf higher up.
The store opens for the season on St. Patrick’s Day. It closes just before Halloween. In season, Rhodes opens its doors promptly at 7 a.m., before the sun is in full force. The doors don’t close until at least 10 p.m. but frequently remain open until 11 p.m.
“It depends on the people in town,” says Lisa Stroud. “If they keep coming, we stay open.” Stroud began as a cashier at the store when she was 16. She quit working for a while after she got married, taking a nine-year hiatus from Rhodes. But the years melted away the moment she stepped over the Washington Post doormat at the threshold to begin her second stint at the store. “It was like I’d never left—except there was even more stuff,” she says.
This year, regular patrons are mourning a significant loss at Rhodes. Christianne Belleville Baker, the blond cashier who greeted morning customers with a smile and a charming, French-Canadian accent for 23 years, died in May, only one week after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 53.
“There are a lot of people who have known her for years and they ask about her the first time they come in the store for the summer,” Ternahan says. “It’s sad to have to tell them that Chris passed away.”
Ternahan and her husband, Bob, also are the owners of Fish Tales, a funky, eclectic retailer of sportswear, gifts and toys just down the parkway. But she has no plans to sell the five-and-dime, now or ever. “It’s very important to keep it all in the family,” she says. “This is a family-style community, and the store is in keeping with that.”
The inventory accommodates folks who forget to pack something on vacation—razor blades, rain ponchos, beach towels, or rubber spiders and snakes—as well as year-rounders and homeowners dashing in to replenish staples such as paper towels, toilet paper and trash bags. Then there are the items shoppers might not think about until they need them, and need them big time: baby pacifiers, bathing suits and Krazy Glue.
Stroud can only recall one request for merchandise so far this season that she was unable to fill. “Someone wanted those little wooden tongs you use to pull toast out of the toaster,” she says. “We usually have them, but we were out and have had a problem getting some more.”
Determining the mix of merchandise isn’t as hard as it may seem, Ternahan says.
“The customers pretty much tell us what they want,” she says.
Shoppers can fortify themselves for rainy days with Yahtzee, Scrabble and other board games for indoor fun. There are toy dinosaurs, baby dolls and teething balls to amuse the little ones. A pirate combat set is equipped with a dart pistol, plastic cutlass, earrings and eye patch.
For vacationers who want to take a reminder of Bethany Beach home with them, there’s an aisle packed with such keepsakes as sea shells and salt-and-pepper shakers.
Joan Gann of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is shopping with her daughter-in-law and grandson. She had visited Rhodes for the first time the day before. She knew immediately she would become a regular customer.
“I love to shop, and this is a wonderful store for me because there are so many things to choose from,” she says.
Gann stands beneath a line of gently swaying wind chimes, contemplating Bethany Beach refrigerator magnets shaped like flip-flops. One is pink with little circular designs and the other is yellow with tiny flowers.
“It’s so difficult to decide,” she says. “They are both absolutely adorable.”
Like the Ganns, it isn’t unusual to see three generations of customers at Rhodes, though they aren’t necessarily related. Teenage boys in baggy surfer shorts peruse a revolving rack stocked with comic books. A sun-burned, middle-age man in a baseball cap heads for the WD-40. An elderly woman in bright red lipstick and a terry robe picks up a bottle of nail polish remover.
Tim Cullinane of Baltimore has been shopping at Rhodes since he tagged along with his parents at age 12. Now 36, he, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter are shopping for postcards.
“I used to come here for the comic books,” he says. “Now I come here for batteries for my digital camera and to listen to the great reggae. I hope this place never goes away and that Annie will be shopping here with her family when she is my age.”
There are occasional suggestions that Ternahan perk up morning business by selling coffee along with the store’s array of newspapers.
But the morning crush is lively enough without dispensing caffeine, she says, thank you very much. The five-and-dime will, of course, continue to sell coffee filters and insulated cups for customers who brew their own.
“Sorry, no coffee,” she says. “This is enough.”