On a recent post, reader Terry wrote:
We have a bulk food store about 15 minutes from us, but what fun is that…to just go and buy what you need and come home? We save $ at that store, but it’s just not the same “experience” as traveling the back roads in rural Wisconsin, heading to Amish country, and spending the whole day having old fashioned fun!
I like this comment because I think it captures what many feel when they visit Amish communities and their businesses.
Are you like Terry (and myself), and enjoy visiting Amish shops and stores?
If so, you might already realize that some Amish businesses are more visitor-friendly for English folks, and some less so.
For example, buggy shops can be interesting, but of limited appeal for most non-Amish people. The same goes for sawmills or engine repair shops.
Which Amish businesses are good for a visit? Here are 5 types of businesses I recommend stopping by next time you’re in an Amish community.
Five Amish Businesses Worth Visiting
Perhaps the humblest of all Amish businesses, these are the “impulse stops” of Amish business excursions.
You rarely plan a visit to one of these–instead you’re just driving through the countryside and suddenly a place with eggs or canned goods or produce or fresh cut flowers or maple syrup materializes on the side of the road.
Roadside stands come and go and change with the seasons. The nice thing is you can hit a lot of roadside stands and pick up a little something at each one. All it takes is (carefully) pulling over or down the lane and hopping out of the car.
Expect to see Amish children or youth running these in many cases. Often marked with little more than a modest sign and sometimes not even that, roadside stands are a way for Amish households to generate a little extra cash and provide a little entrepreneurial experience.
For as much as English people seem to love Amish baked goods, in my experience there aren’t as many of these as you’d think. It seems a lot of women do baking as a side gig or on a “to-order” basis.
Some stands and Amish-run food outlets do sell baked goods. But I can’t think of as many Amish-run full-time bakeries as it seems I should be able to. Let us know of any you like in the comments.
There are other places that sell baked goods, however, especially in the larger tourist-friendly Amish communities, though they might not always be Amish-baked. For a lot of us that might not matter so much.
But if you’re looking for an Amish-owned and Amish-run full-fledged bakery, one of your best bets is to visit a PA Dutch market.
PA Dutch Market
Technically this is not a business but rather a container for many Amish businesses (though an Amish person may in fact own the market building).
Pennsylvania Dutch markets have their own unique atmosphere and quite a bit of hustle and bustle in some of the busier ones.
To work in a market–at least on the customer end–you can’t really be the stereotypical “silent and aloof” type. You probably wouldn’t last too long. People come for the food but also to say hello and chew a little fat.
PA Dutch markets often have a standard mix of businesses: a bakery, deli, produce seller, bulk foods, meats stand, crafts, a hot-food restaurant, canned goods and packaged foods sales, maybe a snack foods stand selling things like pretzels, and often a furniture dealer.
Technically, these are typically not located in Amish communities. Many are found in populated areas on the East Coast within about a 2-3-hour drive of Lancaster County–places like Baltimore, Reading, PA, Princeton, NJ, and the DC area all have PA Dutch markets.
You go to a PA Dutch market if you can’t get to an Amish community but want Amish products and a slice of the “Amish experience”.
Variety stores have a little of everything, hence the name. These give you a good idea of what Amish in the local community buy and use in their own homes.
They may have clothing items, gifts and decor like wall clocks, or home products like lamps and kitchenware. They often sell food items. There may be puzzles, board games and other toys, or lighting products such as flashlights and lanterns. They may have books, school supplies, fabrics, and other necessities.
While some have heavier English clientele than others, you’ll often see Amish people shopping in these, probably more than in any other business type listed here. It’s a business Amish women may run.
This is another category where you won’t find as many examples as you might expect.
As far as Amish-run, full-fledged bookstores go, two of the best-known are Raber’s Bookstore in Holmes County and Gordonville Bookstore in Lancaster County. In northern Indiana, the Pathway Bookstore recently moved to Michigan.
Quite a few communities also have bookstores run by non-Amish people but carrying titles about or read by the Amish. And, as mentioned you’ll often find books in Amish-run variety stores.
I like Amish bookstores because you can get a sense of the types of books Amish readers might find interesting or useful. For example, on recent trips I’ve purchased a history of Indiana Amish schools and a baptism preparation journal.
You’ll find books that are important to Amish people in their walk of faith, such as the Martyrs Mirror, In Meiner Jugend, the Ausbund, and of course Bibles, in both English and German. You can also find copies of Amish publications such as Die Botschaft, Raber’s Almanac, and others.
Have you been to any of these? What other Amish businesses are worth visiting?
Image credits: maple syrup sign- ShipshewanaIndiana; PA Dutch market- duluoz cats/flickr