Store reflects a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle

By / Photography By Warren Bluhm | March 14, 2018
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The store's product line reflects the community's reliance on gas such as a gas iron.
The store's product line reflects the community's reliance on gas such as a gas iron.

... as well as for lighting


Somewhere between Bonduel and Shawano near the center of Wisconsin lies a little piece of yesterday to be savored.

Carefully stacked and stocked shelves display jars of jam, jellies, pickles and other canned goods produced by small, family-owned businesses from near and far, as well as cooking and baking staples and kitchenware.

A light overhead glows with the hiss of propane gas, replacing the rumble and whine and high-pitched electronic tones of everyday life. The Lark Country Store serves about 50 other Amish families who live in the area, and there are a couple of aisles that feature hats, bonnets and the plain clothes favored by the Amish. But the vast majority of its business is with tourists and other area residents who are drawn to the natural bulk foods and spices, canning supplies, candies, gifts and unique household merchandise that line the aisles.

“By far the largest community base is you guys,” says Dave Byler, who bought the store about five years ago. He and his wife, Erma, and their two children live in the farmhouse on the grounds and operate the store with the help of two or three employees, depending on the season.

They were raised in the Amish lifestyle, which relies on propane gas to power their light and heat, stoves and refrigerators. The only electronic devices on the premises are the telephone – via landline, not a cellphone – and the cash register, and they are powered with solar energy. The shelves are stocked with the necessities of living by gaslight and candlelight, many of them manufactured in other Amish communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania; you can even buy a gasoline-powered iron to press your clothes.

The goods and products range from real maple syrup and raw, fresh local honey to rhythm motion clocks, Lambright wind chimes, hand-loomed rugs and other gifts.

Starting in early spring, the store takes orders for fresh fruit of all kinds – blueberries, cherries, peaches, pears, Concord grapes, oranges and grapefruit.

“As each comes into season, we call for pickup,” Byler said. Propane is a big part of the business – the store can fill LP cylinders from 5 to 100 pounds, including forklift and RV tanks, with the lowest propane prices in the area.

The store draws customers from all walks of life but, particularly, the Amish community.

“We sell new and used portable cylinders, and we can get propane parts, regulators, fittings,” he said.

Dave grew up in Michigan, but Erma’s family is from Wisconsin and so they moved here five years ago and purchased the store. The family does not own a computer, television or any of the trappings of what others might call modern civilization.

“It would be more convenient, but there’s too much out there at the fingertips,” he says, referring to the many dark paths along the information superhighway.

The children attend one of the three Amish schools in the area, two-story structures where students from first through eighth grade learn together.

Dave says he does not mean to imply that the Amish lifestyle is superior to the outside world or that the Amish are better human beings: “We’re just people like anybody else.”

But he also says he’s not especially tempted to change.

“You can get by with what we’ve got,” he said.

The Lark Country Store, W5431 Lark Road in the Shawano County town of Waukechon, is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 715-758-7579.

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