April 2012 Issue
Shop for everything from fry pies to furniture at these Amish Country businesses.
Tourists travel to Holmes, Wayne and Geauga Counties — where Ohio’s largest concentration of Amish live — to learn about the culture of horse-drawn buggies, communal barn raising and one-room schoolhouses. Most show awe and respect for a lifestyle where “old-fashioned” ways are embraced.
But travelers also head to Ohio’s Amish Country to shop for first-class hardwood furniture, quilts, cheese, pies and other specialties. Here, we visit three businesses that have loyal followings among Amish and non-Amish customers alike.
Remember that most Amish-owned stores are not open on Sundays, and some do not accept checks or credit cards.
On February 28, 2011, in the aftermath of a freakish storm, a million gallons of water raced through Lehman’s, the Kidron-based retailer, and 33 tons of mud coated everything from oil lamps to wood-burning stoves. Its owners were faced with a daunting cleanup. But within hours, neighbors, customers and friends arrived with buckets and mops. Nearby restaurants donated food for the volunteers. Within days, the 32,000-square-foot store was up and running.
Jay Lehman founded Lehman’s hardware store in 1955. Today, the 83-year-old’s son, Galen Lehman, is president, and his daughter, Glenda Lehman Ervin, is vice president of marketing. All three are still deeply moved by the community’s response to the flood. A store that provides nonelectrical and survival items nationally and internationally was in need and a grateful community stepped up.
“What makes us feel good is that when someone’s power goes off, we know our customers have heat because of us. It’s a way we can give back. We want to empower people and make them feel self-sufficient,” says Galen Lehman.
Today, the quarter-mile-long maze of connected buildings consisting of remnants of a log cabin and three pre-Civil War buildings, including a magnificent hand-hewn barn, is definitely a destination. Serious off-the-grid shoppers (think gas-powered refrigerators), environmentalists (clothespins and laundry soap made from tree nuts) and the curious and nostalgic (old-fashioned washboards and vintage items) can happily spend two hours just looking.
Visitors relax in the on-site Cast Iron Cafe, take each other’s photo in an authentic antique jail cell and spend time in the Buggy Barn Theater learning about Amish country. Throughout the store, antique tools and appliances are displayed overhead.
“People do get lost in here, but we haven’t locked anyone in at night yet,” says Glenda Lehman Ervin. “We are part store, part museum. And it’s a multi-generational place. Grandma and a 6-year-old will have just as much fun. We have old-fashioned toys, a Lego room, books and a garden department. The pantry sells food items and we carry natural poison ivy treatments. Also, kitchenware is one of our fastest-growing areas. With people growing more of their own food and embracing local food markets, they have to have something to do with that produce. Women are planning girls’ day out here. My dad would never have believed it years ago when Lehman’s was considered a hardware store.”
Hundreds of cookie cutters, pottery and crocks so big that small children could hide inside are all cleverly displayed. Jay Lehman continues to reuse authentic barn elements and repurposed lumber for shelving. Old wooden chicken-nesting boxes show off individual hats for sale. A vintage claw-foot bathtub with an unusual oak rim salvaged from a hotel holds baskets. (Amish-made baskets are each signed and dated on the bottom.)
Amish, Mennonites and tourists shop side by side, although non-Amish are sometimes baffled about some of the items. That includes a charming wrought iron courting candlestick holder. A young woman’s father can adjust the candle’s height by turning the coil holder, affecting its burning potential. That indicates whether the young man has more time to visit or if the date is suddenly over.
“We don’t carry everything, but we tend to go very deep in what we do carry,” says Lehman Ervin. “If someone needs a wick or a part for an oil lamp, we’ll have it unless it isn’t made anymore. In our new Soda Pop Shop, we carry more than 300 kinds of soda and 70 kinds of root beer, including bacon flavored.”
If you’re lucky, you may glimpse local legend Jay Lehman walk through the store, making sure everything is “just so.”
“I am most proud of the way my children took over the store,” says Lehman. “And I thank everyone who has ever come here.”
It is like walking through a forest. But these stately old “trees” are tall slabs of lumber, propped up along both sides of a hall inside the Homestead Furniture showroom in Mt. Hope. Each slab of wood is unique, showing off its beautiful grain, texture and warm colors.
Customers who order custom furniture choose from the variety of wood slabs, mostly domestic walnut, cherry or oak, but also a few unusual species, including English elm. The slabs are used as one-of-a-kind desktops, coffee tables, dining room tables and island tops.
The caretaker of this forest is Ernest Hershberger, who opened Homestead Furniture with his wife, Barbara Hershberger, in 1990. The present-day 27,000-square-foot, three-story showroom opened in 2001. The company’s hardwood custom furniture factory is across the street.
But the inspiration for the business goes back much further. The maternal side of Ernest Hershberger’s Amish family traces its cabinetry-making roots to 1918. Hershberger also followed in the footsteps of his father, working in a sawmill, learning about wood species and acquiring woodworking skills.
“My wife and her parents still own a quilting shop and shoe shop. So my wife and I combined my experience with her retail experience to open Homestead Furniture in a small former chicken house,” says Hershberger.
“Word of mouth kept us growing. People would come to us with an idea, a dream or a picture from a magazine and ask if we could make it. We tried to never send anyone away. Now we have custom customers from every state and six foreign countries. We want to create the heirloom pieces that your kids and grandkids fight over,” says Hershberger, who once created a cherry dining room table to seat 24 people.
Loyal customers are proud of their mid- to high-end bedroom suites, rocking chairs, hutches, pub tables, wine racks, bookcases and custom shelving from the company. About 98 percent of the showroom furniture is made by Homestead Furniture craftsmen or craftsmen working in 80 independent woodworking shops within 15 miles of the site.
Hershberger also provides American brands including Norwalk, an Ohio company with 2,000 fabric choices for upholstered furniture, and Classic Leather.
“We are a little different from other Amish furniture stores,” says Hershberger. “My biggest challenge is getting people to know we don’t have just country-style oak furniture. We have Mission Style, Shaker, 18th-century. And our custom customers give us an edge on trends. We don’t have to rely on what we get from manufacturers. We make it here first.”
Between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year make the trip to Homestead Furniture. If you go, there are some must-see items. One is the extraordinary round Edgewood table. The beautiful, expandable table has pie-slice-type pieces that fit together like a layered jigsaw puzzle. Hershberger, who has a good sense of humor, also points out the “Amish entertainment center,” an attractive “bookcase” that swivels to reveal a large-screen television. An 800-pound sleigh bed from the Millennium Collection is available in both feminine and masculine styles.
Another highlight is the massive 22-step walnut staircase with a 16-foot-long, 3-foot-deep bottom step. “Brides who come here ask if they can have their picture taken on the staircase,” says Hershberger. “Of course we say yes.”
Nauvoo Family Market
“I gained 10 pounds since you opened. It’s the fried pies,” a customer says to the young Amish woman behind the bakery counter in the Nauvoo Family Market in Middlefield.
The fried pies, similar to turnovers, come in apricot, cherry cream cheese, peach, strawberry and dozens of other flavors. All are made on site from ingredients mixed by a machine run by air power and baked in propane-fueled ovens. Two Amish couples, Ray and Barbara Detweiler and Dan and Rachael Yoder, own the general store that uses no electricity in deference to their culture. Overhead store lighting is provided by propane and skylights and refrigeration is by diesel engine.
Next month the market marks its first anniversary. That’s long enough to get locals and tourists hooked not only on fried pies, but also 35 different kinds of cheese (think horseradish cheddar and green onion), dried fruits, pecan pies and cinnamon raisin bread. The rows and rows of jars containing jams, jellies, salsas, honey, pickled baby beans and zesty bread and butter pickles are mostly made in Ohio. Shoppers also smile at a peach, strawberry and cranberry concoction called Traffic Jam, an ironically named treat because of its availability in rural Geauga County.
Nauvoo Family Market began by selling a few bulk foods out of a residence. Today it carries an expanded variety of bulk foods, including split peas, spices, oats and popcorn. Co-owner Ray Detweiler wants customers to know “bulk” doesn’t mean you have to buy a huge bag of something. The store buys in large quantities and re-packages the goods into smaller containers, passing on the savings to the customer.
The store also has a hardware section and sells some Amish clothing. Men’s straw hats are made in Fredericksburg, where the straw is steamed and shaped on a press. Amish women’s crisp white bonnets hang by clothespins from a rustic chandelier-like display.
“I hope when people come here that they feel comfortable,” says Detweiler. “I’d like them to ask if they don’t see what they want and ask about something they don’t understand.”
When You Go:
4779 Kidron Rd., Dalton 44618877/438-5346. lehmans.com
8233 St. Rte. 241, Mt. Hope 44660866/674-4902. homesteadfurnitureonline.com
Nauvoo Family Market
15979 Nauvoo Rd., Middlefield 44062440/632-5584