Philadelphia Amish Markets
Pennsylvania Dutch markets thrive throughout the greater Philadelphia region
If you live anywhere in the Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington DC corridor, you might have Amish nearer than you think–at least for a few days each week. Amish market stands are found scattered across the Eastern corridor, bringing Plain life into the cities and suburbs of America’s largest metropolitan areas.
Market stands provide a pretty decent living for Amish. A typical schedule would have an Amish family traveling to the stand Thursday through Saturday, though some may go more often. Drives can be up to 2 hours one-way. Amish sell everything from food to crafts to furniture.
While selling books in Lancaster County in 2007, I ran into more and more stand owners as I entered the eastern half of the settlement, perhaps reflecting the closer proximity to these large population centers.
There are in fact quite a few Pennsylvania Dutch stands. An Amish friend (let’s call him “Aaron Miller“, whom you might recall from elsewhere on this blog) estimated there are up to about 30 Pennsylvania Dutch markets in the Philly-Baltimore-DC area, and around a dozen in the Philadelphia area.
Market trips can be a lot of fun. Usually, they involve a good bit of driving around, eating fatty foods, and guzzling coffee. Recently Aaron and I took a day and visited 4 Philadelphia-area markets. Here’s a bit about what we found.
Wyomissing in Reading
Our first visit was to the relatively new market at Wyomissing in Reading, PA, opened in the last year or so. Of the four we visited that day, this was probably the slowest, at least at the time we dropped by, and technically the furthest from Philadelphia itself. Aaron said that though they’d been open a while, they were still working on getting established.
The market was quite nice inside, with probably a dozen or so businesses, mainly Amish (though they often refer to themselves as “Pennsylvania Dutch” markets, you’ll often see a mix of stand owners, with Amish, English, and Mennonites).
Pennsylvania Dutch markets typically have a standard array of businesses–a bakery, a deli stand, someone selling prepared foods such as baked chicken and meats, a pretzel seller, a coffee-donut stand, and so on.
Typically, Aaron explained, stand owners will try not to sell what others do in order to avoid direct competition within the market and to provide customers a wider range of goods. Makes sense.
Aaron and I first stopped by a salad and dessert stand, belonging to a brother of another Amish friend. He let me take this photo:
Amish girls often work at market stands, being one of the common occupations available to them (along with teaching, waitressing, and serving as a hired girl in Amish or even non-Amish households).
Aaron, who runs a deli stand himself, was particularly interested in the neighboring cheese and meats stand, run by a Mennonite friend. They had a chat while I mosied around and drank coffee #2 (coffee #1 was a portable road brew provided by the A-man himself).
Before leaving we picked up a popular snack at Amish markets–the Philly cheese steak pretzel log. It was better than it probably sounds (“log” for me is usually a scary word when it comes to food).
Bristol was another newer market, which I can only describe as packed. Aaron immediately noticed on pulling in that they were going to be perpetually short on parking. In fact, they looked like they could use a parking deck. Despite the full lot, somehow we snagged a V.I.P. spot right out front. Maybe V.I.P. Aaron had something to do with that, I don’t know.
Bristol was just a quick visit. It is a standard array of stands, with an additional furniture seller attached to the market (larger markets often have one, smaller markets stick more to food). The thing that sticks out most in my mind at the Bristol market is the, let’s just say “creative”, men’s bathroom signs. That’s all I’ll say on the matter, you’re just going to have to pay a visit and see what I mean for yourself.
Coffee #3, accompanied by a peanut butter creme-filled chocolate covered donut. And pretzel log #2. Off to Cottman Avenue.
Cottman Avenue was particularly interesting for me as it was the most run-down, for lack of a better word, Amish market I had ever seen. This may reflect its location in a rougher part of Philadelphia. While Bristol is more on the outskirts, at Cottman Avenue you are already getting well into the city. The market is surrounded by seemingly endless row houses, corner stores, and mom-and-pop businesses.
The market itself neighbors a massive Toys-R-Us outlet, and backs up onto the giant parking lot of a vacant strip mall. Still, this little market hums, apparently doing a great business, despite the fact that it is also the smallest I’ve ever seen–only six stands crammed into a tiny floor space.
Here we spoke with another of Aaron’s friends, who runs a bakery stand. We were gifted two pieces of cake for the road, Aaron cheesecake and me a super-rich chocolate cake (you’ve probably already guessed we weren’t going to be eating too many veggies that day).
Apparently the Cottman Avenue market has a pretty serious clientele. “Everyone that comes in the door leaves with something” explained Aaron’s friend. People are there to shop, not to browse and hunt free samples (a challenge, Aaron admitted, at his own market stand).
Reading Terminal Market, downtown Philadelphia
The daddy of them all, Reading Terminal Market has a 100-plus-year history, with Amish coming to market for around the past 3 decades.
Reading Terminal is a swirl of sights and sounds, and a must-see for any visitor to downtown Philly. The market is housed in the old train station terminal in the heart of the city. The Amish contingent at the market in fact only makes up a minority of the roughly 85 stands. The Amish are clustered in the Pennsylvania Dutch corner of the market.
The first challenge when arriving at Reading Terminal of course is parking your buggy, but luckily there are a number of parking decks in the area. Aaron and I quickly located one just a few blocks away, dropped off the truck, and headed back to Reading Terminal. But imagine my surprise when on the way out, Aaron mentioned to me that this was actually an Amish-owned parking deck. Here he is pointing out the proof below:
So it seems the Amish tribe are even getting into the non-traditional businesses like parking decks. What’s next, casinos?
Once we got to the market, we beelined to the Amish section, and to the stand of Mose Smucker. Some of you may remember Mose from around the time of my Amish business book‘s launch last year. Mose was featured in a Time magazine story on Amish businesses. Mose is still singing and laughing down at his meats and sandwich stand, The Grill @ Smucker’s (not sure if Mose has free wi-fi @ his stand yet).
On arrival Mose wasted no time in giving me a hard time, as he is known to do. Mose wasn’t in perfect shape himself however. Aaron and I noticed a limp, and Mose complained of a bum knee. “Kicking too much butt” we discovered was the reason. We advised him to lay off the butt-kicking for awhile but Mose wondered where would the fun be in that. Fair enough.
At Mose’s stand, I had coffee #5, while Aaron put away a meatball sandwich. We had a visit to a few other of the Amish and Mennonite stands, including the bakery and pretzel stand. And with that it was time to head out.
For future trips, Mose showed us where we could catch the SEPTA train, (Or is that “SEPTIC train”? Time for a new acronym, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority!) just across the street from the markets, then shooed us off.
The trip back to Lancaster usually takes an hour and a half if you’ve got a clear road, but as is often the case on Friday evenings, things were backed up. No chance of me falling asleep at the wheel, though. Not with all that caffeine in my bloodstream.
Does the Clover St. garage have a hitching rail as well?
I was visiting a large flea market in Laurel, DE a few weeks back, and much to my surprise I came upon a young Amish couple from near Dover selling breads, jams, cakes, and other baked and canned goods. I loaded up two bags full for the trip back home. The prices were steep, but no one on God’s Green Earth bakes or cans food like the Amish.
Erik, wonderful story, waaaaay to much coffee though, LOL. You gonna give yourself heart problems later in life if not careful.
Greg, I’m sorry, I’m a bit insulted, LOL. “No one on God’s Green Earth bakes or cans food like the Amish.” Sorry Greg, that simply is not true. There are a few of us out there that are just as good, if not better, LOL. I like buying Amish made too though,,, when I don’t make it myself that is. 🙂
I love the pictures too Erik. I had to go back and look at them again, LOL. Isn’t it interesting about the Amish owned parking garage? I would love to be able to make a trip back east and see all these places again. It has been way too long since I have been out there.
Thanks for sharing!!
I visit the Amish market in Annapolis whenever I’m up in that area. Hoping to get up in early June!
Alice…I stand corrected! The next time you have anything extra coming out of the oven or canning kettle, shoot me an email offline at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you the shipping address. My mouth is watering.
Hahahaaa you bet Greg!! I can’t wait to fire up the canners this year. My mouth is water for some good pickeled beets, home made spaghetti sauce and other goodies. And baking, well, that is almost always happening around here. But to tell the truth I do not think I will be selling my breads and baked goods at the farmers market this year. I really want to concentrate on getting my ceramic business up and running. 🙂
I’m going to fire you off an email now so I get you in my address book, LOL.
As usual, Erik, an interesting post, especially the parking garage info! Nearly every time I look at these postings, I get hungry, and you really did a number on me today! (Today being “Fat Tuesday,” I’m salivating at the prospect of sampling one of those “peanut butter creme filled chocolate covered donuts”! Not good for a diabetic, but I can dream–and salivate–can’t I?)
Alice, will your ceramics be only for sale locally? What do you produce? I’d love to see them.
One more “note”–I became a Grandma (“Busia”, in the Polish tradition) for the first time on Sunday, March 6 when my daughter gave birth to her first child, Ava Elise. I am on cloud 9! Any Amish baby-related stories for me? (At this point, I’m ready for a Dawdi house!)
There’s an Amish market in Annapolis now?! I lived and worked in Annapolis for years. Occasionally we would be able to get garden produce sold out of the back of a pickup by non-Amish; it was the closest we had to a farm market.
Very interesting port Erik. Every time I go to Lancaster County a gain a few pounds. I agree that Amish food is really great, but I do digress to a Philadelphia Hoagie and Philadelphia Cheese Steak Sandwich when in the area.
Great post and photo’s Erik!
My husband & I frequent Amish markets all the time, and all over the place. They are in the Columbus Farmers Market on route 206 in Columbus, NJ; the Williamstown Amish Market on route 322 (Black Horse Pike)in Williamstown, NJ; the Amish Market at 108 Swedesboro Rd. in Mullica Hill, NJ; the big farmers market on route 13 in Newcastle, DE; and now they’re even at the Berlin Farmers Market, off route 30 in Berlin, NJ. We live in southern NJ so most of these places are about an hour or so away from us, with Lancaster being 2 1/2 hours away.
But we love their potatoe, macaroni, & broccoli salads; lunchmeats & cheese (especially lebanon bologna & farmers cheese); baked lima beans, chicken croquetts & chicken pot pie; and of course, ALL of their baked goods! And don’t let me forget Kauffmans apple cider. We always take our cooler with freezer packs in it, especially in the summer. And speaking of the summer, how about the fresh produce the Amish grow and sell? I bought zucchini the size of a baseball bat for 35 cents each, and tomatoes as big as softballs for $2.00 a box! We also love their canned goods, like chow-chow, pepper and zucchini relishes, and all of their jams & jellies. And just one more thing – how about their homemade potatoe chips?
I’m surprised the Amish haven’t set up stands in the Chicago French market yet. It seems like anything with the Amish label sells well…and at a premium too.
Btw…Happy Paczki Day Erik! Here in my Chicago office you can’t turn a corner without running into one.
Amish parking garage
Thanks everyone for the great comments–and up front here I have to come clean–the Amish parking garage was a joke, courtesy of Aaron, who noticed the “proof” of the “Closed Sunday” sign–I thought it would be clear by the context but actually reading it again maybe not! So for the record this was not actually an Amish parking garage, just some characteristic Amish jokery 😉 Other than that, I think that’s the only joke we got in there.
And before I wrap up–a quick congrats to Alice Mary on grandmotherhood, you must be very happy.
Hopefully you got a chance to walk through my uncle’s Sweet as Fudge candy shop! 🙂
Again, apologies for any confusion on the parking decks 🙂 Though you may just see it someday. Yonie, as for the hitching rails, I don’t recall seeing any but may have been around back!
Alice, you are right, I did sort of overdo it on the coffee that day–in fact after I got from PA I actually had what i thought were caffeine withdrawal headaches for a couple days as I ratcheted back down to 2 cups.
On the cooking I may have to agree with Alice here–Amish stuff is great, but they have their areas of expertise. Debbie you hit two of those here-the produce and baked goods especially. Pies!
Mike, I think you mentioned it before–I’m trying to remember, is it close to the bakery?
Lindsay, thanks for the Happy Paczki Day–for those that might not know they are the Polish donuts, usually filled with jelly. In Poland they actually did it already, last Thursday. I just had one, which is very low. To be honest, Polish desserts are fine, but American/Amish ones are head and shoulders above in my stomach’s opinion.
Just getting back home to pop-in on Amish America, and i see the topic has changed.I think these type of markets are great for someone who lives in a city, or is a good drive from their Amish community in their state. I dont have a need for these because im very close to where the Amish live. If i were going to a local market for me it has to be the central market located in the city of Lancaster. And if im correct its the oldest market of its type in America.What i love about this one is that its not geared for only tourist, And more locals seem to go there without all the tourist gimmicks. Richard. Penn
People can cut up about the Amish uptown all they want to. But brother a real Amish will not do it. Real Amish will not make such jokes as this. Somebody wake me up when its over, I need to buy plenty of swamp land for you to buy!
Hi David, ya lost me brother. Unless you are joking too? Anyway, one thing I enjoy about my Amish friends is their generally spot-on sense of humor. Which is also what I enjoy about many of my non-Amish friends, come to think of it.
Richard what is funny is that I have walked outside of the Lancaster market numerous times but have never gone in. Part of the reason is it’s usually been on a Sunday. Lancaster city is an interesting place for that matter, though relatively overlooked.
Sitting here scratching my head, David, I am afraid I am lost too. What exactly do you mean? Don’t mind me, I am having a bit of a confusing day today anyway. What is the joke? Did I miss something?
Erik, next time slow down on the caffeine before you get the headaches, LOL. Ya know I love ya kiddo. 😀
Time for me to walk the doggy. Have a good evening everyone!
Hi Erik I am new to your site. I found it through Kevin Williams’ site.
I have been to the Reading Market in Philly. I had to spend a week there a year ago, my daughter-in-law was there for tests. I ate breakfast several times that week at the Amish stand. They are only open a couple of days a week. The omelet I had was so big I ate the other half for supper. Thank goodness the hotel had a refrig and microwave in my room.
In my opinion the best cheesesteak I had was in the Reading Market. I think the name of the place was George’s. Also had one at Campo’s….not even close to taste and size of the sandwich at George’s.
I’d also be willing to buy some of your canned goodies! You gave me your email, I wrote you re: home business & ceramics but didn’t hear back. And, I’m wondering where I can find your site with pics of your ceramics?
My mouth is watering. I wish I could hire a local Amish gal to do a bit of cooking and some help with cleaning. And, who was that that mentioned FUDGE???? Does anyone know of an Amish Franchise for sale?
Blessings to all.
Eric, it’s across from a soft pretzel stand on the one side. Can’t remember what is on the other sides.
Thanks for this post about a part of Amish business
life I did not know about. I was wondering
about a couple of things. I know that many Amish
have a challenging time nowdays of making money to
support their families. But, is running a food,
craft or furniture stand in a city a two hour
drive away from the farm really their preference?
Doesn’t this take a lot of time away from family
life? Also, when customers visit the stands do
they get much of an understanding of who the
Amish are? Do they realize that Amish life
is focused on “community” and not on “commodities”?
When I visit a large Amish settlement such as
LaGrange Co. Indiana or Holmes Co. Ohio I shy
away from the stores in towns such as Shipshewana
and Berlin that sell Amish-made products and go
out to the country to shop at the Amish farms
where I can start to get a feel for the community.
I’m glad we have educational centers such as
Menno-Hof in Shipshewana and Behalt in Berlin where
people attracted by the Amish commodities can
begin learning about Amish faith and life in
community. Maybe that’s what we need — Mini-MennoHofs next to the Amish markets in places
I never recieved an email from you that I can remember. I always make a habit of answering them right of way. I am so sorry.
As for my canned goods and baked goods, I guess I did not make it clear earlier, I really am trying to get out of selling all that stuff this year so I can concentrate on my ceramics more. I also made fudge that I sold at the farmers markets.
I have a blog that I write about my ceramics on as well as other things and I have a web site I am working on, but neither are really ready for me to promote. I would like to get into full production before I start promoting them. But I will post it and let people know when I am ready.
Sorry about all that.
Apparently, you did not have a soft pretzel from Miller’s Twist–the best!!
Mary Ann, you are right. I actually think we spoke with them, but I didn’t get one. Sounds like I dropped the ball on that one! Next time.
Christine, welcome and very glad you found us here. And you are right at Reading Terminal you would never risk going hungry. I wonder which stand you were at. I’m pretty sure Mose makes some breakfast sandwiches if I’m remembering correctly.
Amish families and market stands
Al in Ky, you ask a good question. I don’t want to speak for all Amish but reading what Amish write and listening you do get a sense of concern over possibly losing something vital with moving off the farm. I guess these things don’t reveal themselves immediately in one generation, and of course not all Amish have always farmed.
To touch on another part of your question, the market stands are often family affairs. Mose above, for instance, has his family heavily involved, and I know that was one motivation for him to get into the market stand business–it was something his daughters could do as well, vs. his old business, where there was less opportunity for that. Other Amish stand owners involve family as well.
I imagine some customers who ask questions may possibly gain a better understanding, but there’s only so much you can get into across the counter. What’s probably more likely is that some are stimulated by their short meeting with Amish stand owners to go home and do a little research and perhaps learn a bit more.
I am sure some customers are attracted to the surface novelty value of purchasing something from an Amish person, while others are attracted to the products they sell, and not really interested in learning more on a deep level. But no doubt some are and do.
The more I read about it, I am becoming more convinced that I was on a group trip to Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. I don’t recognize any of the views, but by the descriptions, particularly of parking decks (it seems our group found one where we could walk into the market without going outside) that is where it was I visited and saw the Amish fellow with the retro-cap I talked about. I suppose that since I was there in March 1994, things change since this March in 2011, a lot of things do change in that much time. Still, the market was quite the spectacle and was in full bustle as I recall.
@Erik. The Dutch place I ate at was called The Dutch Eating Place. It is right inside the Arch St. side of the Reading Market. Also there is a great soft pretzel stand across from it called Miller’s Twist. Fresh pretzel and fresh squeezed lemonade…yum
The peanut butter creme filled chocolate covered donut sounds so good, A WHOLE LOT OF CALORIES but good, i wonder if they deliver.