Lots of Northcentral Ohio readers like to make an annual trip or two to Amish Country, but gas prices are high and these days a visit can be costly. How would you like to see some “Amish country” close to home, a little jewel of a market that is off the beaten track in untrammeled farm country, and well worth a visit anytime? Sound good?
The jewel is called the Planktown Market, situated in an ordinary looking building with plenty of parking that lies off SR 603 just east of the little Ohio town of Shiloh. To reach it you’ll drive a mile or two east of Shiloh, turn left onto Planktown Road, drive a hundred yards or so, then right on Peton Road for another hundred yards. Signs will direct you from 603.
Inside the store there are rows upon rows of ordinary things and more rows of the unusual. There’s plenty of bulk food since the Market caters to Mennonites and Amish as well as “English”, all neatly packaged and labeled. Walk down the aisles and you’ll find lots of candy: chocolate covered pretzels and coconut haystacks, ginger slices and malt balls, more and more of the sweet stuff. There are many kinds of nuts too, including salted-in-the-shell peanuts and sunflower seeds. And, of course, Amish and Mennonite cakes, pies, and cookies. Soups? You’ll find jars of vegetable soup, dried potato soup, lentils, dried beans, and more as well as oat bran, cornmeal mix, and even turkey gravy.
But it’s the deli items that draw a steady flow of customers. Meats and cheeses that rival those in Amish country, and are usually much less expensive. If you’re wondering how such a place came to be in rural farm country, it’s the brain child of Eugene Shirk, a lean, congenial Mennonite who bought the store in 1999 from owners who were going out of business. This hard working 40-something businessman was in the tractor repair business when the store came up for sale, and with no experience in the retail trade or markets, he bought it. “I thought there was a need for such a place,” he said, “but it was a pretty small store to start with, and just 8 feet of deli space. So, I enlarged it, learned by trial and error, made mistakes and did some things right, and now it’s what you see today.” Takes courage.
His deli, which draws customers from surprising distances, now has at least 50 kinds of cheeses, from onion cheese (I bought some – delicious) to sharp cheddar, smoked Swiss and Colby, the list goes on. The cheeses come from Holmes County and are constantly changed and evaluated. “If it sells, we keep it and buy more.” Eugene said. “If not, we discontinue the type and buy something else.” His 50 plus types of meat are treated the same way, and people literally line up to get them. There are ordinary types of lunchmeat like Virginia ham, turkey breast, and corned beef. But he also has braunswager and Lebanon bologna, head cheese, honey ham, summer sausage, and Canadian bacon.
Those who can’t wait to get their purchases home can buy sandwiches made as you watch often enough, and wash them down with old time root beer as well as more traditional soft drinks. Are there plans for the future? Nope. “The market pays well, but like any business there are small scale headaches, enough that I don’t want to expand them.” Shirk said. “Luckily, I have good help, around 22 young Mennonite girls who are hard working and diligent. That makes a big difference.”