As we get ready for our 36th anniversary sale next week, I began reflecting on my experiences with the Amish over the years. I’ve developed close relationships with many of our builders over the years and have watched their families grow, their children grow up and seen some of the challenges they face surrounded by the ‘modern’ world.
As business people needing to keep their businesses competitive, it’s a challenge for them in determining which modern ‘amenities’ can be used, and how they can be used, without detriment to their beliefs and culture.
When I began our business in 1982, if a phone was accessible, it was typically a ‘community’ phone located in a small shed at the end of someone’s lane. Only important and emergency calls were made, and a notebook sat by the phone so callers could jot down the calls they made so they could pay for their portion of the community ‘phone bill’.
Over the years, many of the Amish churches began to allow businesses more access to phones, with some businesses adding answering machines and more recently in some cases, the use of cell phones; all with the understanding that phone use was to be for business purposes. One unique and resourceful business that started several years ago, to improve communication with Amish businesses was a fax service business. We call it the “generic fax service” because most of our builders subscribe to it. If we need to communicate quickly regarding the status of an order or an order change, for example, we can send a message to a particular builder via the generic fax service. The fax service then hand delivers the fax to that builder within 24 hours and receives a small fee for each fax delivered along the route. Our builder can then reply to us via the same fax service.
The use of motorized vehicles has also increased over the years, with every Amish family and Amish business having a short list of ‘drivers’ to call when they need transportation for medical reasons, shopping or a special outing. And as with all ‘modern amenities’, each church determines the rules for their use or acceptance. Most of the Amish churches permit occasional use of a driver and his or her vehicle for everything from trips to the grocery store, to taking a vacation trip. On the other hand, the Old Order Amish limit vehicle transportation to medical emergencies. Otherwise, horse and buggy are used.
I’ll never forget a time back in the 1980’s when I stopped at one of our Old Order Amish shops to check on the status of some roll top desks that were overdue. My Amish friend said there was a hold up at the panel shop and he was waiting for word they were ready. I suggested he hop in my truck so we could drive the few miles to the panel shop. He said that the ‘rules’ prohibited him to ride in a vehicle, but if I didn’t mind, we could take his horse and buggy to visit the panel shop. It was a ride I really enjoyed, and got me to reflect on how the Amish way of life led you to slow down, visit with one another and take time to enjoy the journey. It seems we “English” are always in a hurry, and sometimes forget the importance of relationships, and of taking time to appreciate our surroundings, and the beauty around us.
Another time, with another Amish friend and furniture builder, I stopped one summer day to pick up a load of chairs that were finished, and as I was about to leave, Sam asked if I liked watermelon. A few minutes later we were sitting on the grass in the shade beside his garden, each of us with a half a watermelon in our laps. Again, I was impressed by the importance of taking time to visit and to enjoy the simple pleasures.
Even as the challenges of staying apart from the modern world increase, the Amish continue to adhere to their strong sense of community, the importance of family and friends, and their deep religious beliefs.
Owner of Amish Oak Furniture & Mattress Co.
When you purchase our Amish-built furniture, you’re not only supporting a local, Ohio small business; you’re also supporting the small family-owned and operated shops that build our furniture. For over thirty-five years we’ve partnered with dozens of Amish family woodworking shops to make Amish-crafted furniture available to the retail public. Today, many of the shops we work with are now run by the grown up children of the furniture builders we originally partnered with! It’s been great watching them grow up and in many cases take over the ‘family business’.
It has always amazed me how well the Amish are able to manage and grow their small businesses with just an eight grade education. Far from ‘uneducated’, the Amish are adept at learning all they need to know to successfully run their small shops. In addition to woodworking, they become knowledgeable about mechanical systems (to run their tools), bookkeeping, logistics and customer service.
And as our local Amish population grows, farm land has become so scarce and expensive that the majority of young Amish men are now pursuing other forms of livelihood, such as masons, home builders, roofers, buggy builders, saw mills and small engine shops. Once married, many want to operate a small business that can include their families, which makes woodworking ideal.
So when you’re ready to make your next furniture purchase, we hope you’ll avoid mass produced, imported furniture, and choose furniture made not only in the USA, but furniture made right here in Ohio.
-Chris Tuttle, owner, Amish Oak Furniture Co.