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Feisty 91-year-old cashier recalls fending off robber

Florence Critelli, who works at Rite Aid in

Florence Critelli, who works at Rite Aid in East Northport, speaks about being hit by someone trying to take cash from her register, during an interview at her home in Commack. (Mar. 12, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

A day after a robber snatched cash out of Flo Critelli's register and punched her in the chest, the feisty 91-year-old had only one regret.

"I should have hit him with the scanner or closed his hands in the drawer," she said.

Critelli found herself a media darling when she returned to work Friday, manning the front register and greeting customers at the East Northport Rite Aid on Larkfield Road.

And when her shift was over, she went back to her Commack home and recounted her Thursday morning ordeal.

Critelli said a man wearing a black baseball cap approached her register at 10:55 a.m. and handed her a $1 bill for an Easter marshmallow candy that costs 54 cents.

"What struck me was that he looked down and out," Critelli said. "He wasn't very clean. He wasn't a regular customer."

When she opened the cash register to give him his change, Critelli said, the man grabbed the money in the drawer.

Critelli said she screamed and put her hands on top of his to stop him. That's when the suspect punched Critelli in the chest and ran off with about $50, police said Friday. An investigation is ongoing.

"All I thought when I hit his hands was that I didn't want him to take the money," Critelli said.

Critelli - who works a five-day, 35-hour week - refused medical attention and finished her shift, "shaken up a little," but not frightened.

"They [Rite Aid staff members] told me that I should call my son and tell him to pick me up," she said. "I said, 'No, I'm going to drive home.' . . . I didn't want to go home. What would I do home?"

Rite Aid spokeswoman Cheryl Slavinsky said Critelli was a hardworking employee of 17 years. She said employees will be reminded of the company policy to put safety first when dealing with customers

Critelli said she is a little tired of her new notoriety.

"I don't think I did anything great," said Critelli, who has two sons, seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

On Friday, a robbery was reported at a Walgreens store in Hicksville. Nassau police said a man wearing a black baseball cap brought food items up to a register to be rung up, but when the cashier opened the register drawer, the suspect reached in to take money. The female cashier, 60, shut the drawer but was pushed to the ground as the robber ran away, police said. Nassau police are investigating the incident and looking for any connections to the Rite Aid incident.

Critelli, who once worked on watch movements for Bulova in Astoria, said she enjoys working and will continue until her body tells her otherwise. "I can still do it, so why stop?" said Critelli, a 40-year breast cancer survivor.

Joe Megna, Critelli's son, said he was not surprised by his mother's spirit and energy, pointing out that most nights she crochets three sets of mittens and hats for the needy. "She's a tough lady," Megna said. "She doesn't take garbage from anybody."

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