I've long said that visiting a local hardware store is among the best ways to find some unique souvenirs while shopping local.
I recently found myself in Ohio's Amish Country and took the advice of online travel friends who insisted that Lehman's Hardware Store needed to be on our bucket lists and definitely found it to be a great way to find some unique items while shopping locally!
Jay Lehman originally established the hardware store in 1955, taking over a combo hardware store and gas station with the idea of catering to the area's large Amish population. The Amish in this northeast Ohio region number more than 50,000, making it the largest concentrations of Amish people in the country.
Lehman worked as the store's sole employee for a number of years, but today the store billing itself as a place to find "Simple Products for a Simpler Life", is a 35,000-square-foot super-sized store and local tourist attraction that also continues to serve the local Amish community, as well as people interested in sustainable living, urban gardening, living off-grid, missionaries and doctors working in developing countries, movie and theater set designers looking for historically accurate period pieces and those with an interest in nostalgia.
How do people find Lehman's and how do they grow their business?
Lehman, now in his 80s and still coming into the business every day to interact with customers, has never shied away from using more high-tech methods to sell the low-tech and nostalgic items that are his specialty. His son and daughter now work with him, as well as with many other employees, and embrace the new-fangled means to promote and publicize their products.
The business boasts of shipping products to 85 different companies around the world and offering the best selection of reliable non-electrical products.
When Jay Lehman first opened the hardware store, the Amish made up about 95 percent of his customer base. These days, the Amish make up something more like 6 to 8 percent of Lehman's total sales.
The store draws about 4,000 visitors on a typical Saturday, and annually tallies about 500,000 visitors.
Sales via the store's Website and catalog account for about 60 percent of total sales with things like Y2K, 911 and the northeast blackout of 2003 brought additional customers to the store (Do any of you remember where you were during the blackout? We missed that whole episode as we'd scheduled a week-long trip near Traverse City, Michigan that started just as that infamous blackout started!).
Lehman's honors and respects past tradition and time-tested ways of doing things. They stock an amazing number of non-automated or non-electrical tools, appliances and other items. If they can't find something, they sometimes create replicas and/or create parts for them so that people can continue to use their vintage equipment for many years to come.
Lehman's also puts a special emphasis in shopping as locally as possible. Three hundred of their vendors live within 45 miles of the Kidron store, and many of them are local Amish craftspeople.
The store is also a great place to visit to learn about properly setting up and using vintage-style items like oil lamps and wood-burning stoves.
The quarter-mile-long store is actually four different pre-Civil War structures that include a hand-hewn barn, all melded together under a single roof.
There is also a smaller, more traditional hardware store at nearby New Hope that appeals more to the traditional Lehman's Amish shopper.
We easily spent a couple of hours in the Kidron store, finding all sorts of things we needed like a cast-iron spoon rest for our stove, a puzzle that pictured a bunch of vintage character lunch boxes, an Ohio Gazetteer and a number of vintage-style and hand-crafted soda pops.
We saved shopping at The Soda Pop Shop for last. The section, stationed by the store's entrance, has over 70 varieties of root beer (and we all know how much Tim loves his root beer) as part of a collection of 300+ pops.
Moxie, Frostie, Mighty Mouse or Birch Beer anyone?
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved