The subtle language of Amish business signs

A writer for the Washington Post visits the New Wilmington, PA Amish community in this article.  It’s a pretty straightforward Travel section piece.  One paragraph did jump out at me:

Craftsmen and seamstresses advertise their wares with simple hand-lettered signs painted on scraps of wood — Furniture. Quilts. Jams & Jellies. Harness Maker — leaving you to discover the true quality of what’s for sale at the end of the dirt drive. It’s also the antithesis of the rest-area peddlers set up on Interstate 95, loudly advertising their “Real, Amish-Made Furniture!,” which I’ve always assumed must be fake.

New Wilmington Amish Rugs
Amish rugs at New Wilmington

I share something with the writer here–the louder an ad shouts at me, the more skeptical I tend to be.  When a pop-up takes over my screen, I’m looking for the “X” to shut it down posthaste.  These understated Amish signs speak a different language, a meeker, humbler tongue.  I think that’s what people find so drawing about them.  They seem to fit what outsiders expect from the Amish.  And they don’t make the hard sale.

Not all Amish business signs are scrawled in rough block letters, of course.  Some advertising is professionally done and looks indistinguishable from what you might see from an English business.  This probably has something to do with the clientele being marketed to, or the product being sold.  If I’m going to plunk down a few dollars on a pie or some produce, a charmingly clunky sign will do.  If I’m spending thousands on kitchen cabinets, I’d probably feel more comfortable meeting the company via a professionally-done ad spot–a hint from the get-go that this company cares about detail and aesthetics.

Amish Furniture Ads
Furniture ads in the Amish Woodworkers of America guide

That said, plenty of Amish woodworkers seem to be getting by with the quaint signs as well.  Some furniture buyers apparently don’t need the flash, even in this market.

There’s another interesting nugget in this excerpt–the bit about the sign “leaving you to discover the true quality of what’s for sale”.

Sometimes I’ve seen a sign, gone down an Amish lane and been disappointed. A couple of scraggly-looking peppers and an abundance of onions–but none of the tomatoes I was seeking.  Or a storekeeper who’s a lot less interested in chewing the fat than I am. You don’t know until you get there.  But that’s part of the appeal.

Have you ever been surprised, pleasantly or not, by the Amish business at the end of the lane?

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    23 Comments

    1. Leanna

      Baskets for sale

      We vacationed in the 1000 Island area. Horse droppings along the road indicated there were Amish in the area. I saw a little hand-lettered sign tucked among the weeds -‘BASKETS FOR SALE’. We followed the signs through winding back roads, thinking we might get lost. It was well worth the extra miles. The basket maker was a young mom wth many children. While she and I chit-chatted 5 children were hanging the laundry – and loving what they were doing. I left there wishing this lady were my neighbor.

      1. Sounds like a great mini-adventure Leanna.

    2. Alice Aber

      Greetings,

      While in Bellefonte, PA this summer I found 3 lovely little shops at their farms along a country road. My first time driving along the road I had missed the signs completely. Small and nothing fancy they seemed to blend into the surroundings. I was not disappointed in any of the businesses. Good products at reasonable prices. I finally got to have some raw milk which I have not had in years. I bought fresh produce at another farm, and home baked goods at yet another.

      I guess if I were to have a complaint, it would be that sometimes you miss seeing the signs. I knew there were places on that road so I was looking for them and still missed the signs my first drive through. I do like the simpler way of doing things I just wish the signs were a little bit bigger, LOL.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. Alice, true that they can be missable. Maybe each should sport a mini SMV triangle? 🙂

    3. Richard from Amish Stories

      I went to a Amish coach shop and saw a computer right on the counter!

      I had gone to a Amish owned and operated coach shop in Lancaster which was something that I would occasionally do on and off since I was a child, only this time I had noticed a computer sitting on a table. And after talking with the Amish owner I found out that he regularly responds to emails and monitors his own web site, so that surprised me a little and this happened a few years ago. I know Erik has talked about this on Amish America before along with myself on my own blog, so I’m not so surprised anymore seeing a computer inside an Amish business.

      Richard from http://www.Amishstories.net

      Nickel Mines shooting

      I hope that Erik does not mind me saying that on my blog today I have a post from a minister who went to where the Nickel Mines shooting took place to help comfort some of the Amish victims families . This post is in 2 parts and is the first time that he’s talked about it, so he talks about Faith and on how the Amish themselves reacted as some of their children were dying in the hospital. A horrible story and far from the happiest post to publish, but it did happen and he wanted to share what he had seen.

      1. Sharon G

        Reference to Richard's Amish stories

        Richard,
        I am thrilled I saw your website. I read a lot of your stories this morning and I am looking forward to the Part 2 of the Nickel Mine story. My heart stopped when I heard about that shooting. My grandson was 1 year old that day and each year I remember that horrible shooting. I live about an hour and a half from Etheridge, Tennessee and have visited in that Amish community for years and years. One of the Amish friends there was instrumental for starting the settlement in Mississippi and we even visited him and his family there. Thank you so much for your stories!
        Sharon

        1. Richard from Amish Stories

          To Sharon.......

          I really appreciate you saying that Sharon and I thank you for taking the time out to stop by my little blog.

          Richard from

          http://www.Amishstories.net

    4. Robin Wyatt

      I think little or big the shops with down to earth rugged signs are the best. They are looking to make money to support their family. And live they ways they think is best. I wish I lived closer to shop in there shops.

    5. Thanks to this site, I’m sure, I just love the different signs I see in Amish country. It’s just like you said, some have what you’re looking for, others don’t, and some signs are nicer than others. I always take pics because the signs are so cute, even the rough-looking ones (those are sometimes the best). Thanks for sharing ~

      1. Thanks Beth, yes I love those pictures too. Refreshingly plain.

    6. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I remember when I first learned about Pathway Publishing, here in Ontario. At that time it had one of those homemade signs out front, because it’s on whomever’s property, and the sign looked just like any of those selling eggs, vegetables or whatever, but it said “Pathway Publishing”.
      I would have thought they would have gone for a more elaborate sign, but given the faith they cater to, it makes sense.

    7. City folks sometimes don’t “get” the signs. When we’re in Ohio, we always buy eggs at a certain Amish farm. Early this month, we noticed a sign tacked to the porch: “We still have eggs.” We asked if they were thinking about going out of the egg business. The woman looked surprised. “Not at all!” she said. She could see that we were still puzzled, so she explained that the family had eaten all the older egg-laying hens and that all they had now were young hens, which laid small eggs.

    8. rick

      Pathway Bookstore in IN

      SHOM: Pathway’s store in LaGrange, Indiana is equal to what you described for the Ontario business.

      I stopped in a new-to-me rocker store in New Wilmington in August and was surprised that I received a nice, professional-looking brochure with color photos to take along for my consideration. His roadside sign was the usual handpainted variety though.

      1. Rick I have a business card from a Swartzentruber furniture place that is handmade–cut out from paper and each card hand-penned in cursive. They had a catalog which consisted of a binder holding some photos of previous work, and basically home-produced whatever literature they had. The New Wilmington group isn’t quite so conservative.

        1. Lattice

          I have received a similar business card. My favorite handmade signs are the ones with a misspelling or some sort of grammatical “faux pas.” It’s a reminder that the signs were written for “us,” without any desire to impress.

    9. Darlene

      A hand-painted sign had me traveling down a loooooooooooong lane to but some flat root beer once. Somewhat disappointed in that product to say the least…

    10. Darlene

      Sorry, I read that about 7 times and STILL had a typo…should be “buy” not “but”…

      “but” the root beer was really bad…:)

      1. Darlene are you a fan of root beer to begin with? I rank it pretty low in my list of favorite drinks. Flat root beer sounds pretty bad though, even if I were a fan 🙂

        I once went to buy some baked goods at a Swartzentruber household. They were kept in a standard plastic heavy-duty cooler on the front porch. After I opened it and saw the ants crawling over some of the items I decided to pass. I guess the cooler wasn’t ant-tight 🙂

        1. Darlene

          I do enjoy a good, cold frothy root beer every once in a while. Unfortunately, the two that I purchased were..um…none of the above.

    11. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      My root beer aspiration

      I know the question was directed at Darlene, but, I really like root beer. One day before I croak I want to try an authentic old style root beer, not from a can or plastic bottle.

    12. Tom in KY

      root beer is actually fairly easy to make and not that expensive to do so. But for me i like to try the occasional craft beer, lager or ale. But only in moderation of course.

    13. It's a Sign!

      Since starting AmishWorkshops.com, I have driven my wife and business partner, Laura, crazy as we drive through Amish country. I’ll see a sign that says “RUGS” or “EGG NOODLES” or “BIRD HOUSES” and will immediately pull off the road and into a driveway to investigate. We’ve found more than half of our suppliers this way. Sometimes the products aren’t what we’re looking for, but we always enjoy the opportunity to meet new folks and see what they have to offer. It’s just part of the reason we love our business.

      1. Keith, if I were in your shoes I’d probably like that part a lot too. One nice thing is that a sign at the end of the drive is like an invitation of sorts. Business is the pretext but over time you make a lot of friends that way.