The Finger Lakes region is so in. That’s because people today are looking for experiences that are so out (outside, on the lake, in the country …). And here, our outside is spectacular for all sorts of recreation. Yes, even shopping.
Today’s shoppers are looking for a refreshing experience, away from traffic, crowds and endless blacktop parking lots. They want friendly interaction and even participation, not just for them, but also for their children – a shopping experience turned educational adventure. They don’t mind traveling to a shopping destination as long as they can enjoy quiet country roads and beautiful changing vistas along the way. The terms “handmade,” “locally-grown” and “all-natural” are important to shoppers, and Finger Lakes country stores have all three, by the wagonloads.
The Amish and Mennonite growers and craftspeople near Penn Yan have earned a reputation for high quality at a fair price since they first settled here in the early 1970s. The goods they produce have become more available today, thanks to the variety of unique retail opportunities they’ve created. Here are just a few.
Oak Hill Farm Bulk Foods
3173 Route 14A, Penn Yan
This 1,600-square-foot specialty food store, begun in the front room of the founders’ farmhouse, easily meets your family’s grocery needs but offers so much more. Since it began in 1983, Oak Hill Bulk Foods has earned a reputation for offering unique, high-quality food products at a great price. A comfortable country-store atmosphere coupled with friendly service helped to create a loyal local following and enthusiastic Finger Lakes visitors. “Even on winter weekends, we notice people from outside the county shopping in our store,” said owner Phil Riehl.
Riehl’s father-in-law, Amos Stoltzfus, opened Oak Hill shortly after he moved here with his family from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. As sales increased, room for inventory decreased, and boxes were soon stacked to the ceiling … in the family’s living room. Oak Hill expanded to its current site in 1990, and in 1999, Riehl and his wife, La Reta, bought the business.
“Our concept is simple,” said Riehl. “We buy in large quantities, usually 50-pound bags or cases, and then we repackage everything ourselves into various sizes. That way customers can choose the exact amount that meets their needs, and we avoid the cost of expensive packaging that most popular brands are using. We pass that savings on to our customers.”
Like the other establishments in this article, the trip to Oak Hill is a beautiful car ride through the Finger Lakes countryside. Before you head out, visit www.oakhillbulkfoods.com for an overview of all it offers; it will help you plan your shopping list. Categories include meat/cheese, baking, dried foods, “sweet stuff,” and “storage,” such as jars, lids, freezer containers and plastic bags. Make sure you check out their “Guide to Grains” page, a great resource for healthy eaters.
Best of all is a host of products that are locally made or produced. “We sell pancake mixes, flour and grain from The Birkett Mills in Penn Yan,” said Riehl. “Many of our jams and jellies are also produced locally. Our homemade bread, cookies and mouth-watering fruit pies are baked by area Mennonites. When it’s in season, we sell local produce grown in and around Yates County. We have a nice selection of cheeses from New York and Ohio. Our signature cheeses are aged New York cheddars, which we buy in 40-pound blocks and repackage for retail. Stop in and try a sample today!”
Weaver-View Farms Country Store
1190 Earls Hill Road, Penn Yan
There is something very special about a handmade quilt. Once considered a lost art, quilting has become a popular hobby over the last 10 years, thanks to new techniques and technologies. Seventeen percent of all U.S. households report having at least one family member who participates in quilting, according to a 2006 Quilting in America survey. Non-quilters can still be quilt collectors, and handmade Amish quilts are highly prized. Their craftsmanship and creativity have raised handiwork to an art form.
The Weaver family in Penn Yan has been making and selling hand-stitched quilts – sturdy, beautiful heirlooms that will last for generations – since 1993. The hand quilting is done almost exclusively in New York state by experienced Amish and Mennonite quilters. One quilt takes hours and thousands of stitches to complete.
As the Weavers gained experience working with different fabrics, colors and a variety of customers’ tastes, they built up a solid supply of completed quilts. At last count, their inventory included over 300, ranging in size from California King to tiny ones for dolls. If customers can’t find what they’re looking for among the Weavers’ stockpile, they can custom-order a quilt to their liking. Weaver-View offers over 10,000 yards of designer quilting fabric to choose from.
Quilt patterns vary from season to season and from year to year, but some old favorites never go out of style. “Log Cabin” and “Lone Star,” both dating back to the mid-1800s, are always popular. Weaver-View Farms also carries newer patterns, “Seneca Lake Rhapsody Song” and “Seneca Moonglow,” that reflect the Finger Lakes region.
The store is located on the Weaver family’s 220-acre dairy farm overlooking the west shore of Seneca Lake. The farm is nearly 200 years old and offers a tranquil moment in a busy world. The 14-room farmhouse is open year-round and features a collection of useful, old-fashioned wares and one-of-a-kind country gifts. In addition to quilts, the shelves and cupboards offer an assortment of things you’d hope to find at a country store: Amish-made furniture, hand-worked wrought iron, pottery, dolls and sturdy wooden toys. There are also gingham dresses and bonnets for little girls, as well as an ample selection of books written by Finger Lakes authors or on Finger Lakes topics. Weaver-View offers homemade jellies, jams and fruit butters, plus homemade pickles, salsas and relishes.
Finger Lakes Produce Auction
3691 State Route 14A (Penn Yan-Dundee Road), Penn Yan
Let me say this right up front: the Finger Lakes Produce Auction is geared toward wholesale buyers. They arrive at 9:30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning starting in April through the first killing frost in the fall to buy farm-fresh, locally grown produce to sell at their farm stands. Unless you want to buy produce in large lots – like a wagon full – you might want to go the auction’s special sales on Saturdays when the lot sizes are more consumer oriented. That being said, everyone is welcome at the Monday/Wednesday/Friday auctions, and they are true country social events set against a backdrop of beautiful and abundant plants and produce. If you can stay ’til the end, smaller lots do go up on the auction block.
According to Small Farm Quarterly, produce auctions have become popular across the country, especially in farm-oriented Amish and Mennonite settlements. They provide the perfect market for small, family-sized farms because of the high volumes they can move to a largely wholesale audience.
The Finger Lakes Produce Auction, begun in 2000, is the largest in New York state. When we talked to office manager Jim Lightfoote it was the first Wednesday auction of the season, and nearly 100 buyers were in attendance for the flowers and nursery stock scheduled for auction that day. “The ‘drive-through’ was almost three-and-a-half hours long,” he told us.
What’s a drive-through? It’s a line of wagons and trucks, two lanes wide, laden with whatever the grower has brought to sell that day. The vehicles pull into the building and right up to the auction block where the auctioneer calls for bids on each load.
“It’s really fun when we do pumpkins in the fall,” said Lightfoote. “They take up so much room that the drive-through line stretches out the door and around the corner.”
Last summer, Lightfoote thought that the price of gas would keep buyers away, “but that just didn’t happen.” He expects the same will hold true this season. “A gentleman from Emporium, Pennsylvania, travels here each week, a three-hour drive one way, just to buy our locally grown produce. In fact, he likes the auction so much he became a shareholder of the corporation.”
Special quilt and craft auctions on two Saturdays, July 5 and August 30, are favorite events among locals and visitors alike. To see a complete schedule of special auctions, visit www.pirrunginc.com/FLPA.htm.
3700 Route 14, Himrod
If you’d like to add more buildings to your property – a storage shed, a gazebo, or how about a guest cottage? – you need to talk to Kent Lapp at Wood-Tex products. From two designs originally sold by Kent’s father, Sanford, who founded the company in 1983, the company has grown to offer a variety of handmade structures for small storage, large storage, livestock and living space. Wood-Tex’s 20-by-40-foot log cabins can accommodate two small bedrooms, a kitchen, bath and living room. It even comes with a 4-foot porch.
The handmade playhouses, sheds, horse barns, log cabins and more are manufactured by crews of local, hardworking Mennonite craftsmen, and are sold right at the Wood-Tex factory 20 miles south of Geneva. Customers can choose from among over 200 ready-made sheds and barns on display at the five-acre site, or get good ideas for colors, sizes and “extras” they want. Wood-Tex can take a basic model and easily modify it or upgrade it to whatever specifications the customer wants. Since there’s no middleman, prices are very affordable.
Many of the structures are built on skids so that they can be delivered fully assembled. Even horse barns and run-in sheds (three-sided structures placed in pastures to protect livestock like horses, llamas and alpacas) at 12 by 48 feet, can be delivered intact and ready to use. The buildings are distributed throughout the country; delivery is free within 100 miles of the factory.
Wood-Tex is known for its helpfulness, friendliness and high-quality craftsmanship. The Lapp family considers it a privilege to operate solely from within the Finger Lakes.
The Windmill Farm & Craft Market
3900 State Route 14A, Penn Yan
The Windmill is the epitome of country shopping. Part open-air market, part old-fashioned dry-goods store, the 34-acre site features nearly 200 shops and craftspeople selling everything from farm-fresh produce to onsite chiropractic services. The Windmill was the first of its kind in New York state and this year celebrates its 21st anniversary. On average, attendance is 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each week.
A typical Saturday at the Windmill begins early for shoppers – 8 a.m. – and often starts with a hardy, delicious breakfast from one of the many food vendors. Then it’s on to a day of shopping, inside and outside, for flowers, furniture, jewelry, pottery, art, clothing, collectibles, candy, wine and all sorts of Amish and Mennonite goods. Maybe take a buggy ride later, or watch a free show. A relaxing early supper/picnic ends the day. The Windmill closes at 4:30 p.m.
The market was begun by the Gunderman family, who visited the famous Green Dragon Farmers Market and Auction in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, in 1979. The Green Dragon was in its 47th year then, and highly successful. They were enamored with the concept and hoped to one day create a similar market in Yates County. Eight years later, they began to talk up the idea, and local craftspeople were encouraging. With a group of grassroots supporters but little financial backing, the Windmill opened in 1987 with 89 vendors in indoor and outdoor booths.
Since then, the Windmill Market has grown and improved with the addition of sidewalks, concrete floors, restroom facilities and permanent enclosures for vendors. The Windmill is open every Saturday from April through mid-December, plus Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.
by Tina Manzer