Sometimes you want a different shopping experience. I really like to shop in small towns, from small vendors and I love to buy things made by hand and with care.
In the farming community around Dover, Delaware, Amish families run a handful of shops selling handmade solid wood furniture, hand-sewn quilts, jams and jellies, and —ahhhh! Can’t you smell it? — fresh baked goods.
On a recent, cold and ugly day I beat it out of town to spend time visiting some of these shops. Let’s call it retail therapy.
I started in downtown Dover at Spence’s Bazaar and Auction. I arrived on auction day (every Tuesday and Friday) and the parking lot was filled with furniture and other stuff. Spence’s has two buildings and I headed for the one filled with food.
The air was thick with the aromas of eggs and scrapple frying, cookies, cakes and breads baking and coffee brewing. I watched a young woman assembling whoopie pies at one bakery stall while at another a pair of young women sliced pies glistening with fruit. A candy stall was packed with Easter eggs. Fresh sliced chicken and pork were lined up in a deli display case. And the handful of tables at the center of all this deliciousness were filled with people who seemed to know one another.
I skipped out with a cup of coffee to peruse the neighboring building to find six-foot-tall Chinese-style vases, old Eddy Arnold records, ceramic doo-dads and even baby christening clothes. I didn’t have time for the auction, although there was a chair sitting on the parking lot that made me wonder about my plans for the day. I left it there and headed out to Rose Valley School Road. (Here’s a map of my day.)
My next stop was Byler’s Country Store — right on the corner of Rose Valley School Road and Route 8, which takes you into Dover. Here you can rub elbows with Amish families pushing their own shopping carts.
Byler’s is huge — it’s a big box store with long rows of the usual groceries, bulk items, frozen foods and baked goods. The baked goods are made on the premises. Then there are sections for country decor, cooking utensils, wood pellet stoves, outdoor furniture and playsets. You have to search for Amish-made goods. A pair of rustic birdhouses were among the hand-made crafts I found — but pretty little birdhouses right next to them were made in China. Among the groceries, I found Amish-made jams and preserves. And I also found some locally-produced lard.
I spent a lot of time on Rose Valley School Road. Less than a mile long, this bucolic area is home to Amish and non-Amish families. Amish children were running around their school house as I drove by. A farmer was looking over a wagon and I carefully passed two black horse-drawn buggies along the way. On this road are a greenhouse and furniture shop that weren’t open the day I stopped by. I would have loved to stop in either or both but I was content with the scenic drive.
The highlight of my day had to be Country Furniture and Crafts where I met the retired owner, Mr. Miller. (Sorry, forgot to ask him his first name.) He’s handed over his cabinet making business to his son and son-in-law but he still stops in the shop and still makes custom solid wood furniture in a small workshop here. A warm and friendly man, Mr. Miller popped in after I let myself into the empty shop. The crafts and solid wood furniture stocked here — everything from jewelry boxes to chairs, chests and entertainment units — are made by Amish craftsmen from Ohio.
I almost missed Shady Lane Selections but I’m glad I didn’t. Half of the shop is stocked with an amazing assortment of necessities and gift items — everything from knit caps to toys — but on the other side are quilting and sewing supplies and handmade goods. Let my pictures tell the story. From the caps at the top of this post to the quilts, table runners and afghans, wow.
The drive from Spence’s to Byler’s to Shady Lane Selections was seven miles and it took me into a world of quality craftsmanship and quiet beauty. Winter didn’t seem to bother me as much after a day here.
None of these stores has a website but VisitDover.com has a listing of these shops and the ones that were closed when I visited. I also picked up an Amish Community Business Directory for Kent County brochure at Mr. Miller’s shop.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
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