It started as a joke. Jay Lehman, our founder, was in the store chatting with Sal and Bruce, two of our buyers. Jay mentioned he was going deep into Amish Country to deliver some products and find new vendors the following Friday. Bruce turned to Jay with a smile and said, “You should take Sal with you.” And that’s exactly what happened.
“We left Kidron about 7:30 am and made 10 or 12 stops, all in very rural areas,” said Sal. “We didn’t stop for food, drink or anything until we were done that evening. I was impressed at how hard he works – that man does not age!” (Editor’s note: Jay celebrated his 88th birthday on April 21, 2017.)
“Half the time, I didn’t even know where we were,” said Sal, as the two of them wound their way south into Holmes County (home to the largest population of Amish in the world) in Jay’s pickup truck.
“Everywhere we stopped, the Amish craftsmen would know who Jay was…I, on the other hand, was introduced as his helper, his assistant, his guy or his buyer,” said Sal with a chuckle.
One stop to pick up wooden wheels would lead to a conversation between Jay and the Amish vendor. Jay asked each one, “Do you have a family member or neighbor that is making something that Lehman’s might want to carry?” and back in the truck they went, to the next Amish workshop on the list. Sometimes the conversation would be in English, sometimes in Pennsylvania Dutch and sometimes a mixture of the two. The Amish, of course, have no words for modern terms like “tourists.”
“One of the most interesting stops was a buggy shop,” recalls Sal. “Another stop was a handle maker – he makes handles for everything, axes, hammers, all out of wood. Jay asked him who we should see next and he pointed up the hill and said, ‘go see my brother, he makes lawn furniture.’”
All of the workshops were on the vendors’ property, sometimes a standalone shed and sometimes in the barn. “We stopped by one home because vendor said he would be home, but there was no sign of him. So Jay marched into his barn and starting looking at the products he was making. As soon as the vendor popped his head in, he immediately greeted Jay by name,” said Sal.
Most Amish men prefer to “put their feet under the table three times a day.” What, you ask, does this mean? It means providing for your family and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with them. Farmers have this opportunity, but there is only so much farmland to go around, which is why most Amish prefer working at home with their own family members.
Around lunch time, Jay turned to Sal and said, “Are you hungry? If you are, you’d better eat now because where we are going there are no restaurants.”
“And he was right,” said Sal. “Most of the businesses were father/son, with clothes hanging on the line outside, buggies lined up in the driveway and children playing in the garden. It was like a movie set from 1900.” Many Amish homes, he noted, do not have curtains. Some churches consider curtains too “flashy.” The practical reason is that Amish homes do not have electric lighting, so bringing in as much natural light is important. (Hint: When traveling through Holmes County, you can spot an Amish home if there are no curtains or power lines. Impress your friends with your farm-cred!)
When Jay’s pick-up truck left Lehman’s parking lot at 7:30 am that Friday morning, the truck bed was empty. By 6 pm that night it was full – cultivator handles, an ox yoke, block samples, wooden wheels of all sizes, lawn furniture, and a few tools, all handmade by the Amish.
And that, my friends, is how Lehman’s sources product for you!