When the hardware store Lehman’s opened in Kidron, Ohio, in 1955, it was rather plain. And that was the point: Most of its customers were Amish people who needed the non-electric mixers, manual mowers and wood-burning stoves that Lehman’s sold. When the ’60s came around, though, back-to-the-landers took notice and found that Lehman’s had all of the supplies needed for an off-the-grid homestead, from composting toilets to oil lamps. Lehman’s became the store for anyone seeking “products for simple, self-sufficient living,” as its slogan says.

These days, a new generation of environmentalists is discovering that there is much to be learned from the plain ways of the Amish. Many new customers are eager to trade in their exhaust-spewing lawn mower for an old-fashioned reel mower or any of the hundreds of other “original” green products the store sells. “Our environmentalist customers now aren’t countercultural like the hippies were,” says Glenda Lehman-Ervin, daughter of Lehman’s founder Jay Lehman. “Now they’re young people who are college educated and want to live in the world, be a part of the world, but lessen their impact on it.”

Lehman’s products aren’t the only thing green about the store. An expansion of the storefront this summer incorporated green building principles into the new design. The addition was built with some salvaged materials, insulated with recycled newspapers, and is partially heated with wood cut from the lot cleared for the expansion.

Lehman’s sells some of its products online using “high tech to sell low tech,” says Lehman-Ervin. A customer can now sit in Starbucks and use an iPhone to order a hand wringer that dries clothes without electricity. The product is not so different from the one the pioneers used (the wringer, not the iPhone). The store’s growing customer base proves there’s truth in the cliché: What’s old really is new again. 

Story by Ragan Sutterfield. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007