Time seems to be traveling backward. Asphalt changes to dirt as scenes resemble the 1800s more than the 21st century. Young girls wearing bonnets and homemade cotton dresses maneuver horse and buggies. Horse-pulled lorries loaded with colorful fall produce serve as my fellow travelers as we near Shipshewana, Ind., about 110 miles west of Toledo.
Green squares of lawn with unadorned white farmhouses advertise fresh eggs, honey and chickens. If the timing is just right, Amish women offer out-of-the-oven breads and fruit pies in front of the farms to raise money for their schools.
Though my 17-year-old daughter Nia and I love these snapshots of days gone by, we are on a mission: Her wallet is filled with money she earned at her summer job, and we are heading to the Shipshewana Flea Market, the largest in the Midwest.
The 100-acre plus market buzzes with a crowded parking lot and an almost Byzantine warren of lanes packed with nearly 900 vendor booths. Open from May until the end of October on Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., this place fills up with a staggering amount of goods. Some are presented in orderly fashion on shelves, racks and tables, while others are jumbled in no discernible way, bunched together in boxes and piles.
I am initially overwhelmed by the crowds and hardly know where to begin, but I soon start to feel the market’s energy and settle into its rhythm, jumping out when I see something I want.
Shipshewana attracts half a million visitors a year to this town of less than 600, and it’s easy to see why. My shopping game on point, I find wind-activated deer whistles designed to avoid collisions, a practical item for someone like me who spends a lot of time driving country roads. At two for $1, I later wonder why I hadn’t bought more.
I come across Booth 638 where Rodney Burroughs sells glass milk bottles. My grandparents owned a dairy back in the 1920s, so I search through his collection hoping to find a survivor from their farm — but to no avail.
I pass on the Army surplus ammo cans at Northern Gun Tackle, but since I like to cook, I pick out a few vintage cookbooks at Daisy’s Antiques. I then spot some solar lights at 2 Sister’s Glass Garden for the small area edging my patio.
By now my shopping adrenaline is fully pumped as I make my way to Ervin’s Millwork Shop. I consider buying a custom-made hardwood cherry bookcase before admiring the rough-hewn tables and chairs at Dutchman Log Furniture nearby. Both are too big for my car, so I pass, but the hand-quilted wall-hanging at SS Textiles would look good in my daughter’s bedroom and will definitely travel well.
Grabbing a few jars of locally made honey noodles, we head to the car and drive the mile north to Shipshewana’s small but charming downtown. Walkways are lined with pots of mums, and rockers on porches invite customers to sit awhile.
Time slows down as we make our way through the pastel-color cottages of the Courtyard of Arts, a working artisan village. My favorite stop is at Catalynje Buffalo Fiber Co. Owner Bonnie De Moss weaves buffalo fiber with other exotics such as silk, mohair and alpaca, dyeing them in colors that often seem to match the season.
I buy a pair of BufCuf Socks, knitted on the store’s antique sock knitting machine and made of soft, plush buffalo fibers. They’ll be perfect for our next fall shopping trip or an Amish-inspired evening curled up under a blanket with a good book.
Embrace Fall Check out the Fall Crafters Fair Oct. 4-6 in Shipshewana, where more than 160 quilters, painters, carvers and other artisan craft makers and vendors show their wares and demonstrate their work. If you tire from shopping, there will be musicians and cloggers (think foot stomping Amish dancing) to entertain. amishcountry.org