Amish markets offer unique flavor, atmosphere

Capital Gazette Communications

The Gerstein family of Gambrills knows exactly where to find a birthday present for Grampy: The Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, also known as the "Amish Market," in the Annapolis Harbour Center.

It's the pies that bring them back year after year.  "They taste good, they're not expensive, and they're homemade," said Ken Gerstein, with granddaughters Erin, 3, and Caitlin, 6, in tow.

"Grampy likes cherry," Caitlin said of her grandfather.

The Annapolis market and the Amish Country Farmers Market in Easton are just two of several in the state run by Amish families, offering customers everything from homemade doughnuts and pretzels to fresh, local produce and handmade furniture.

Hundreds of people meander through both markets beginning on Thursdays, with foot traffic increasing on Fridays and Saturdays. Some say they enjoy the variety the markets offer, but most customers come back for one reason: the atmosphere.

"So many people have said they love coming in here because everybody is so friendly and happy," said Reenie Chase, who owns the Fudge 'N Fun Shoppe at the Easton market. "We've made so many friends here. We love the community."

Amish and market history

The markets are Amish because they are run by, well, the Amish. Most of the Amish families who work at the Annapolis and Easton markets are from Lancaster County - the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The first large group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720s or 1730s.

Overall, the Amish believe in humility, family and community, as well as separation from the modern world. The most obvious sign of the Amish lifestyle is their plain style of dress. Amish men wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats, trousers with suspenders and solid-colored shirts. Amish women wear solid-colored dresses and aprons. Their hair is worn in a bun, which is concealed by a prayer covering.

They do not use electricity in their homes and often travel by horse and buggy. Still, Amish beliefs do not prevent them from being a passenger in a car or hiring a driver. Non-Amish drivers transport the market staff to their destinations each day the market is open.

"It's 104 miles from my house in New Holland," said Aaron Beiler, market manager.

Beiler, 58, and his family know the route well, as do the seven other families who work in the Annapolis market. Most of them make the trip to and from the markets every day they are open. The same is true for those who work at the Easton market.

They have logged some serious miles. Several families, like the Beilers, have worked at the market since its first days on the Eastern Shore.

The original market opened in the early 1980s near intersection of routes 50 and 301. Developer Frank Hardy offered market staff a year rent-free if they would open in the Queenstown location, said Beiler, who was 29 at the time.

"If we didn't have a year's free rent, we wouldn't be here today," he said.

The first year allowed the market to become established, and within two years, business was on its way up, he said. But by 1990, the property changed hands, and Beiler decided it was time to find a new location.

In March 1991, the market opened in Annapolis Harbour Center. Customers from the Eastern Shore followed, and soon, the market routinely drew shoppers from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

But Dan Esh, who founded the original Queenstown market and has opened more than 10 others across the mid-Atlantic, never lost his love for the Eastern Shore. With the help of two nephews, he opened the Easton market off Marlboro Avenue in May 2007.

"I always liked this area," Esh said. "There's good people in this area. Down to earth, old-fashioned, and we tried to fill the need."

Goods aplenty

Nancy Walker stood in the Annapolis market's Dutch Market Bulk Foods shop on a recent Saturday, contemplating if she should buy the garlic pickle chips. She and her husband had stopped in the market the night before, passing time while they waited for their movie to start at Bow Tie Harbour 9 theater.

"When you come back, you always get more than what you planned on getting," the Annapolis resident said. "They have a lot more selection here in certain categories than you find in some grocery stores."

Selections like the garlic pickle chips or the hog head cheese, also known as souse, which Walker specifically visits the market for.

In addition to the hard-to-find items, the markets offer fresh meats, cheeses, pastries, candies, sandwiches and restaurants or buffets with traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. The majority of the markets' goods are made or packaged by the Amish. And at some stands, the food preparation is as much of a draw as the food itself.

At the Stoltzfus Soft Pretzels & Ice Cream stand in Annapolis, children line up two deep to watch workers hand twist pretzels and bake "logs" - log-shaped pretzels stuffed with meats, cheeses and sauces. A similar scene is found at the bakery, where workers bake doughnuts and then paint them with layers of chocolate and vanilla.

"The bakery is the biggest draw," Beiler said.

In Easton, Esh said the meats stand - where the motto is "pleased to meet you… meat to please you" - is the most popular.

"We have some things that people can't get everywhere," Esh said. "And people like the old-fashioned product that we offer."

While the Easton market is only three years old, the Annapolis market will mark its 20th year at the Annapolis Harbour Center in March. Recent renovations to the bakery and bulk foods areas and a newly signed lease are signs the market could be around for at least 20 more.

"It's been a great experience," Beiler said.

Annapolis Harbour Center Hours of Operation:
Monday - Saturday: 10:00am - 9:00pm
Sunday: Noon - 5:00pm

Disclaimer: All property descriptions and related information are for illustrative purposes only.

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