There are many reasons to keep your credit card handy in Lancaster County. Quilts and other craft products unique to the area are sold in dozens of small stores and out of individual farms, but keep cash or checks on hand for some Amish merchants. The thrifty Pennsylvania Dutch have saved old furniture and objects in their barns and attics for 300 years, so antiquing is plentiful here. Fine pieces tend to migrate toward New Hope and Bucks County for resale, where you compete directly with dealers at the many fairs and shows. If antiques aren't your bag, numerous outlet centers provide name-brand items at discounts of 30% to 70% along Route 30 east of Lancaster and in Reading.
Shopping Like the Amish
For an authentic Amish shopping experience that provides remarkable insights into everyday lives, stop by Fisher's Houseware & Fabric, on Route 372 near Georgetown (tel. 717/786-8121). You'll park next to the buggies of locals buying essentials like fabrics, toys, books, snacks, clothespins, and glassware "fancies" in this wonderful general store (no credit cards accepted). Prices are extremely reasonable and the dishware and cookware selections are great.
Two miles east of exit 286 off I-76, Route 272, is Adamstown, self-proclaimed "Antiques Capital U.S.A." (www.antiquescapital.com). It's the undisputed local center of Sunday fairs, with numerous competitors within 5 miles. The largest are Stoudt's Black Angus Antique Mall and Renninger's Antique and Collectors Market, both with more than 300 indoor dealers and hundreds more outdoors; seasonal Shupp's Grove is smaller and mostly outdoors.
Most farmers' markets in Lancaster County today are shedlike buildings with stalls at which local farmers, butchers, and bakers vend their produce, eggs, cheese, baked goods, and meat products like sausage and scrapple. Since farmers can only afford to get away once or twice a week (to sell at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, for example), more commercial markets supplement the local goods with stalls selling everything from deerskin to souvenirs. The low-ceilinged, air-conditioned commercial markets lack the flavor of, say, Central Market in Lancaster, with its swirling fans and 1860 tiles, or Friday at Green Dragon Market & Auction, on North State Street in Ephrata.
A notable contemporary market is the Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market on Route 340 (tel. 717/393-9674; www.birdinhandfarmersmarket.com). It's open from 8:30am to 5:30pm Friday and Saturday year-round, plus Wednesday and Thursday in season. Root's Country Market and Auction, just south of Manheim on Route 72 (tel. 717/898-7811; www.rootsmarket.com), is a very complete market on Tuesday, open April to October 9am to 9pm and November to March 9am to 8pm. The historic riverside Columbia Market at 308 Locust St. in Columbia (tel. 717/684-5767) operates on Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 6pm.
Among the treats at the dozens of roadside stands that you'll pass, try the homemade root beer, ice cream, whoopee pies, and other local delicacies at Countryside Road-Stand at 2966 Stumptown Rd. near Ronks (tel. 717/656-9206), open 8am to 8pm Monday through Saturday. Take a right turn from Route 772 heading west out of Intercourse and follow Stumptown for 1/2 mile. Fisher's Produce, on Route 741 in Paradise, between Strasburg and Gap (tel. 717/442-3078), sells delicious baked goods and wonderful seasonal produce.
With over 100 stores, Rockvale Outlets, Route 30 E. at the intersection with Route 896 (tel. 717/293-9595; www.rockvalesquareoutlets.com), is Lancaster's largest outlet mall, and includes a hotel, six restaurants, and courtesy shuttle service on its grounds. Brand names like Merrell, Bose, and Lenox are represented. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30am to 9pm and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. The 60-plus store Tanger Outlet Center, 2200 Lincoln Hwy. E. (tel. 800/408-3477 or 717/392-7260; www.tangeroutlet.com), has shops like Coach, Fossil, and Kenneth Cole, and is slightly closer to Lancaster and more compact. Tanger is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 9pm and Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Home Furnishings Outlet, on Route 10 S. in Morgantown at the junction of exit 298 off the Pennsylvania Turnpike (tel. 610/286-2000), has 18 furniture stores, including Natuzzi Leather, and is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 9pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. A Holiday Inn is attached to the property.
I have neither the space nor the adjectives to fully describe the original "Outlet Capital of the World" in Reading, housed mainly in former textile mills along the Schuylkill. Some three million shoppers are drawn here annually to over 100 separate outlet stores offering name brands like OshKosh, Liz Claiborne, and Reebok. It's 30 minutes from Lancaster or 75 from Philadelphia, via I-76 to I-176 north to Route 422. The largest destination is VF Outlet Center, 801 Hill Ave. (tel. 800/772-8336 or 610/378-0408; www.vffo.com), just west of the city.
Quilts occupy a special place in Lancaster County life. Quilting can be a time for fun and socializing, but it also affords an opportunity for young girls to learn the values and expectations of Amish life from their elders. German immigrant women started the tradition of reworking strips of used fabric into an ever-expanding series of pleasant, folkloric designs. Popular patterns include Wedding Ring, with interlocking sets of four circles; the eight-pointed Lone Star radiating out with bursts of colors; Sunshine and Shadow, virtuoso displays of diamonded color; and herringbone Log Cabin, squares with multicolored strips. Contemporary quilters have added free-form designs to these traditional patterns.
Color palettes and designs of quilts created for retail sale have a different sensibility from Amish-intended quilts. Amish women select patterns using careful calculations, based on the availability of gem-toned fabrics in green, red, blue, and purple left over from dressmaking, usually with a border or background of black (which can result in a single, oddly mismatched patch when a certain material runs out). They would never dream of buying whole fabric simply to express creativity or to capture an artistic impression of a spider web or a sunset. Extravagant "English" custom orders may be accompanied by a brief lecture on Amish thriftiness, in hopes that these frugal Amish values might "rub off" a bit.
The quilting process is laborious and technically astounding -- involving choosing, cutting, and affixing thousands of pieces of fabric, then filling in the design with intricate needlework patterns on the white "ground" that holds the layers of the quilt together. Interestingly, though all quilts require a great deal of sewing by hand, the Amish have used sewing machines (usually treadle, though sometimes powered by air compressors) since their introduction in the 1800s for quilt backings. Within communities, a sort of "assembly line" often exists among farmhouses, in which one woman is skilled at cutting fabric, another at piecing, another at batting or backing the finished quilt top. Expect to pay at least $700 for a good-quality quilt and $25 and up for runners, bags, and throw pillows.
The Old Country Store (tel. 800/828-8218 or 717/768-7101; www.theoldcountrystore.com) in Intercourse has a knowledgeable sales staff and an excellent inventory of quilts, plus crafts, fabrics, and books. On the second floor, their dazzling People's Place Quilt Museum (www.ppquiltmuseum.com) provides an excellent overview of this art form, free of charge. The Quilt Shop at Miller's, located at the famed smorgasbord on Route 30 1 mile east of Route 896 (tel. 717/687-8439; www.millerssmorgasbord.com), has hundreds of handmade examples from local artisans, and is open daily. Demonstrations are offered from 2 to 4pm on weekends. Emma Witmer's mother was one of the first women to hang out a shingle to sell quilts 30 years ago, and she continues the business with more than 100 patterns at Witmer Quilt Shop, 1070 W. Main St. in New Holland (tel. 717/656-9526). The shop is open from 8am to 6pm Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and from 8am to 8pm Monday and Friday.
The county's back roads are dotted with simple signs indicating places where quilts are sold; prices are slightly lower, though choices are more limited. Hannah Stoltzfoos Quilts & Handmades offers a good selection, plus custom work, at her home on 216 Witmer Rd. (tel. 717/392-4524), just south of Route 340 near Smoketown. Katie Stoltzfuz operates Country Lane Quilts at 221 S. Groffdale Rd. in Leola (tel. 717/656-8476).
Amish and Mennonites have created their own baskets, dolls, furniture, pillows, toys, wall hangings, and hex designs for centuries, and tourism has led to a healthy growth in production. Much of this output is channeled into the stores lining Route 340 in Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand, such as the Amish-owned Quilt and Fabric Shack, 3137 Old Philadelphia Pike (tel. 717/768-0338). The Weathervane Shop at Landis Valley Museum has a fine collection of work from tin and pottery to caned chairs, produced by its own craftspeople. Find traditionally crafted salt-glazed stoneware and redware at Eldreth Pottery in Oxford (tel. 888/811-4313; www.eldrethpottery.com). On the contemporary side, the Pennsylvania Arts Experience (tel. 717/917-1630; www.paartsexperience.com) helps serious collectors connect with the many fine artists and artisans of the Susquehanna Valley Artist Trail.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.