Shoppers who now must drive an hour to get to Amish markets and crafts soon will find them much closer when an Amish businessman opens a Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market in Aberdeen.
The market, scheduled to open early next month in a former grocery store at Jamesway Plaza on West Bel Air Avenue near Beards Hill Road, will boast 60 to 70 stands on Fridays and Saturdays.
Craftsmen, farmers and food servers will pay $75 for each 8-by-8 1/2 -foot stand to sell handmade furniture, crafts, baked goods, cheese, smoked meats, canned foods, hot food and produce.
This is the 12th market Daniel Esh has opened since 1975 -- and perhaps the last.
"I think it's time for me to slow my pace a little," said the 44-year-old Amish resident of Bart, Pa., who finds sites and arranges leases for the markets.
"I'd be glad to show others how to do it and then just concentrate on my own food stands."
Mr. Esh, who has farmed and done crafts all his life, is confident the market will succeed.
He said an Amish market in Westminster, with about 80 vendors, attracted 25,000 people its first two days.
"We drew a great many curiosity-seekers as well as serious shoppers," he said. "Each weekend since we opened in November, we've had a steady stream of customers. Enough to keep the parking lot filled."
Mr. Esh became interested in the Aberdeen location when approached by W. Dale Hess, Jamesway Plaza owner.
Mr. Hess "came into the Westminster store, introduced himself and asked a few questions about our operation," said Mr. Esh said. "We had several other conversations and then visited Aberdeen. We liked the area and entered into an agreement with Hess Enterprises."
Mr. Esh said that 30 to 40 years ago, more than 90 percent of the Amish population in Lancaster County farmed. That figure, he said, now stands at less than 20 percent because "there is just not enough farmland available."
Amish people who still want to farm have established communities in other states, he said.
Information published in The Diary, a church newsletter serving the Old Order community, estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of the record 160 couples married last year in Lancaster County could start their lives together working on farms -- the time-honored Amish tradition.
The newsletter cited high land prices, fewer farms and a population that doubles every 20 years as reasons some Amish people have given up farming and become carpenters, lawn-furniture makers or taken other nonfarm jobs.
To provide outlets for the Amish craftsmen, Mr. Esh began to search out new market places. "These markets are giving young Amish couples an opportunity to make the transition away from farming," he said.
Mr. Esh has signed a long-term lease to occupy the 20,000-square-foot former Acme super market in Jamesway Plaza.
Aberdeen is his fifth market in Maryland and ranks second in size only to the 34,000-square-foot market in Westminster. Other state markets are in Crumpton, Annapolis and Burtonsville. The remaining markets are scattered throughout New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
The Aberdeen market promises to have much of the atmosphere and amenities of those long-established meccas in Lancaster County, but without the hitching posts for horses and buggies. For that, one must still spend an hour on the road.