Don't try to hurry Linda Landrath, proprietress of the only food store in Waterford. She has been perched behind an old-fashioned manual cash register most days for five years.
Step inside the Waterford Market and the pace slows.
Landrath--hair in a bun, metal-rimmed glasses on her nose--keeps a flock of 20 brood ewes and two rams on pastureland outside the store and a box of wool at the ready inside. On slow afternoons, she feeds the wool onto a spinning wheel to make yarn, keeping in step with an earlier era.
"I believe antiques aren't valuable unless you can use them," Landrath observed as she rose from the wheel and used a long grabber--another old and useful tool--to fetch a customer San Giorgio rotini from a high shelf.
Small wonder that people passing through the Quaker settlement of Waterford sometimes mistake Landrath and her shop for some kind of living history exhibit. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark, and the market is one of only seven or eight commercial buildings.
Landrath, who lives in a log cabin about seven miles from the store, doesn't really mind being mistaken for a reenactor--anything to get people to slow down. That was her aim when she took early retirement in 1994 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she was a budget planner, and gave herself full time to the Waterford Market. Before that, she worked at the store nights and weekends, employing a stream of young mothers and other village residents to handle the soda-and-a-sandwich traffic.
These days, she happily takes on the role of historic interpreter for the annual Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit, which will be held tomorrow through Sunday.
Visitors to the market will see Landrath's 1940s-era freezer, her old-fashioned waist-high Coca-Cola cooler and her quirky system of price tags--an original boxed set of plastic numbers that slide into grooved tracks on the grocery shelves. (The box says: "Self-service modern price marking systems for grocery, meat, drug and liquor stores.")
"I don't think you can get them anymore," Landrath said, delicately fingering the neat containers of plastic tabs. "They're probably as old as the store."
Three circular moldings on the ceiling held kerosene chandeliers in the store's earliest incarnation as a dry goods store immediately after the Civil War.
"This was a fancy store where women came dressed up to get their fabric and ribbons," Landrath said. "It was converted in the 1930s to a grocery store, and all these things were carted away."
The shop owner has come by her bits of arcana through an avid attention to her customers. Landrath is always ready to hold up her end of the conversation--"I'm generally pretty upbeat"--and her eagerness to listen has yielded scraps of history.
A silver-haired man who came in for a snack six or seven years ago suddenly stopped in his tracks when he noticed the hulk of the 1940s freezer.
"He said, 'I'll be, it's a Tyler. I haven't seen one of these in years,' " Landrath recalled.
The man went on to tell her that the company, based in Niles, Mich., manufactured the freezers out of sheet metal and insulated them with sawdust. The man had worked with the model that is in the Waterford store.
Such information is kept alive for years through conversations passed around Landrath's store.
"Sometimes I think I got to do something about this; it's too confining," she said. "Then someone will come in and it just makes your day. You learn something. You have the opportunity to meet people."
That goes for lunch hour, too. This is not, Landrath will tell you, an urban-style delicatessen where people walk in, order a packaged sandwich and dash out.
At the Waterford Market, most lunch customers know the drill: They ask Landrath what kind of sandwiches she's making and take their pick. The choice one day last week was turkey or ham, white bread or submarine roll.
"Those I make," Landrath said as construction workers flowed into the store a little before 1 p.m., "so if you want to grab a quick one, that is a little bit more of a challenge."
She tries to make subs "as the guys like them." If a crew comes in and will be in Waterford for a couple of days, "I'll find out what they like and get it for them."
When an uninitiated construction worker came in and walked purposefully to the cooler, poking his head in for a look, Landrath followed. "The barbecue ones are pretty good," she said, referring to a frozen packaged snack. (In a concession to modern schedules, she keeps a microwave on hand for people who have to eat in a hurry.)
Otherwise, "it's whatever she has," said John Tsantes, an Alexandria photographer who was in the area on a freelance assignment for a Chantilly swimming pool company.
He trooped in with two women who were on the job with him.
"This is just what we were looking for," Tsantes said. "We were hoping not to have to go back to Leesburg for McDonald's or something."
Ask for lunch and--hands flying from lettuce to tomatoes--Landrath will also dispense bits of wisdom, inquire about the day her customer has had.
"It's what makes you feel good; that's the point of life," she said, handing over a huge hoagie. "Make everyone's passage a little bit easier."