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SALTWATER PORTRAIT

Chuck Snyder: A Rehoboth Avenue regular

Raised on town’s main street, he’s fire chief for the third time
June 26, 2018

Story Location:
219 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Not that it's a competition, but in the history of Rehoboth, not many individuals have spent more time on Rehoboth Avenue than Chuck Snyder.

Born and raised by business owners on the first block of the Avenue, a City of Rehoboth Beach employee for nearly three decades and a member of the city's volunteer fire company for nearly five decades, Snyder said he can remember when Rehoboth Avenue was pretty much nothing but houses. "I've seen a lot of changes downtown, I really have," said Snyder, shaking his head with an I-can't-believe-how-long-it's-been look on his face. "I've seen most of these stores built."

Snyder's dad, Bill, owned Snyder's, located on the first block of Rehoboth Avenue where Snyder's Candy is now located. "You could buy everything there," said Snyder listing off newspapers, magazines, candy, tobacco. "It was also a local gathering spot. The store was the first floor of the whole building, and we lived upstairs in an apartment. It was great. I grew up half a block from the ocean."

Snyder, who will be 63 in August, was just a young boy when the infamous nor'easter of 1962 destroyed and flooded much of the Boardwalk and the rest of Rehoboth's first block. The National Guard closed off the first block to everyone but the people who lived on it, he said. They gave people a special pass to be able to get through, he said.
"I can remember going down to the beach and just seeing all the ruins," he said.

While today there are zero gas stations in town, Snyder said he can remember a time when there were five gas stations in the mile from the Boardwalk to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. He then quickly names the three he can remember off the top of his head – a Pure Oil where Jack Lingo Realtor is, an Exxon where Debbie Reed is, a Shell where Catchers is.

Snyder said he can remember when Grotto Pizza first opened in the location where Go Fish! is now. He said Dominick Pulieri, a Grotto Pizza founder, had a gentlemen's agreement with his dad. "When they opened, my dad sold a lot of ice cream. They needed freezer space, so my dad let them use some of it. At the end of the season, they'd make 20 or 30 pizzas that we could freeze and then eat throughout the winter," Snyder said. "This was before they were open year-round."

Snyder is so connected to the beach town's main drag, when he and his wife moved a couple miles outside of town 20 years ago to Airport Road, it was hard to adjust. "I would complain that it was too quiet. Now, I wouldn't change anything," he said. "Now, during the summer, in the morning, the traffic is backed up past my house going toward the beach. Then, in the evening, it's backed up past my house going in the opposite direction."

Snyder has worked as the building and grounds supervisor for the city for the entirety of his 28-year-career. He said his primary responsibility has been to maintain the convention center, but he also oversees public restrooms and some items on the boardwalk. "I like my job, but I'm looking forward to retirement," he said. "But I'll always find something to do."

A member of the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company for 45 years, Snyder, who has documented much of that tenure with his photography, is chief of the company for the third time. He said he joined the company in the early 1970s because he felt it was the right thing to do, and because back then, there wasn't a whole lot to do for most young folks. "Dewey wasn't what it is today," he said laughing. "There just wasn't a whole lot to do."

Snyder said many of the same men who hung out in his dad's store were also members of the fire company. He said he can remember his earliest meetings as a member.
Pointing to the old meeting room, Snyder said, "You were told to sit in the back and to not talk unless spoken too, and that's what you did. If they told you to push the broom, you did. I was afraid not to. I didn't want to go home and have someone tell my dad that I wasn't willing to do something. My dad was not afraid to let me know when he was not happy with me."

The need for the fire company has grown significantly during Snyder's time. He said when he first started, the company would receive around 100 fire calls and 300 to 400 ambulance calls in a year. Now, he said, it's 800 to 900 fire calls and 4,000 ambulance calls a year, he said. "A lot of the calls are non-emergency – automatic alarms, traffic accidents, trash cans," he said. "But we'll get 50 to 60 really serious calls a year."

Snyder also served as ambulance captain for many years until the calls became so many, the fire company had to hire full-time staff. The fire company is still run by volunteers, but there are 15 full-time EMS employees, he said.

Snyder said the city has always been good about letting him respond to fire calls. "The only thing they've ever said, is that when I'm done, I get back to work," he said. "It's a win-win. The fire company needs the help, and the city gets to have people working for them who are members of the fire company."

Snyder said it's hard to believe the fire company's growth over the years. When he started, the company only had this bay and that room over there, he said pointing to a room that's on the town hall side of the fire station. Now, he said, there's Station 2 out on Route 1 and Station 3 on Route 24, which, he said, is a partnership with the Lewes Fire Department. "We were one of the first ones to partner together," Snyder said of the relationship between the two Cape Region fire safety providers. "We split expenses, and we split the workload. Route 24 is the dividing line, but if it's anything too bad, we all go to it. It's about working together."

Snyder said he's never given much thought about having never lived more than a couple miles from the Rehoboth Avenue apartment he called home during his youth. He said working for the city and helping with the fire company are his way of giving back to the community.

Like a good locals'-local, Snyder said he thinks development has outpaced infrastructure needs in Rehoboth and the surrounding county communities, but he said complaining isn't going to change anything. "It's still my home," he said. "You just got to suck it up and go with it."