If your store is a must-see on a tourist excursion through Amish country in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, there must be something that you are doing right. Rentown Country Store, in between Bremen and Nappanee, is that favorite tourist stop, as well as a favorite destination for locals.
Dennis and Leah Hochstetler, the owners of Rentown Country Store, offer visitors and their neighbors a place to find quality cheeses, locally grown produce, fresh-baked pies, cinnamon rolls and a variety of breads. Friendly greetings, quality products and a welcoming atmosphere bring locals and visitors through the doors and, more importantly, make customers friends.
“We have conversations with our customers about their lives,” Hochstetler says.
Rentown was established as – and remains – a family-owned business. The name comes from Dennis’ grandfather, Dan Hochstetler, and his neighbor, Manas Hochstetler, who spent their days traveling to town or local auctions as they neared retirement.
In Pennsylvania Dutch, the word “renna” means gadding about, Hochstetler explains. According to the story, Manas said they should be careful or the community would refer to where they lived as Rentown.
“My father, Leroy, purchased 17 acres off the home place in 1966,” Hochstetler says. “He built a shop and called it Rentown Shop. That was how Rentown was born.”
Leroy travelled for work. One time he brought back a supply of mixed nuts, which he put up for sale on a couple of shelves. This product, sold on a four-foot shelf, started the business known today as Rentown Country Store.
From the mixed nuts, Leroy added cheeses priced one cent below what they cost him, and this strategy established Rentown as the place to go to find quality cheese. That is still true today, as the store’s cheese selection fills two long coolers with 100 varieties.
Recently, Rentown supplied 7,000 pounds of cheese to sell at a local festival.
“We’ve got the best cheese at the lowest price,” Hochstetler says.
The store’s produce is locally grown, as are other products stocked and sold at Rentown. Much of the produce is sourced from family farms within a three-mile radius, as is the maple syrup.
“If someone has something local, I will buy it because it is local,” Hochstetler says.
While locally grown fruits and vegetables, and a wide selection of cheeses, are among the most popular commodities sold, bakery items are also much in demand. The in-house bakery supplies most of the breads, pies, cookies and other baked goods. Made-from-scratch pies can be ordered in small or large quantities. Leah oversees this part of Rentown. For Thanksgiving, it is not unusual for the bakery to produce 300 to 1,000 pies.
“Anything made in our bakery can be special ordered,” Hochstetler says. “People can call in any time and reserve any of our baked goods. Just call ahead and ask us to hold for pickup.” These are kept on a shelf devoted to these special orders.
Bulk foods are also found on the shelves throughout the store. Rentown has homemade candies, homemade noodles, sesame sticks, bulk candy, gluten-free and sugar-free products, spices, popcorn and flour.
In the housewares section of the store, customers can find cookware, popcorn poppers, paring knives and knife sets, utensils and bowls, and pressure cookers, among other useful items. Anyone looking for something for kids to play with can choose from a selection of learning toys, puzzles, games, books, playing cards, pool toys and wooden toys.
Through arrangements with other local businesses, shoppers can also find hanging baskets in the spring and summer. Polywood lawn furniture is offered for sale. Hochstetler says this furniture has made its way to Florida, to houses on Lake Michigan, and in local backyards.
“It will never rust and doesn’t have to be put up for the winter,” he says.
The Hochstetlers also organize special events in the community, including Super Saturdays in the fall. At this event, the six local stores in Rentown and three vendors offer special sales and discounts.
Another popular event is Old Fashioned Days, which is always held the weekend after Labor Day. This is a fundraiser for the community school. It features demonstrations of steam-powered thrashers, corn huskers and other farm equipment. Activities for families are scheduled every hour during the event.
June through December is the busiest time at Rentown. This coincides with the growing season and the influx of tourists to the area. It is the locals, Hochstetler says, who support the business year-round.
“People come here because they know us by name,” he says. “We are friends with our regular customers.”
During the slow times in the early months of the year, Hochstetler plans to upgrade the shelving in the store. Although still useable, the shelves have been well-used since first acquired by his father at an auction.
Rentown’s current location was built in 2015. It was originally located across the street where Hochstetler’s sister owns the Dutchmaid Eatery & Gifts. The new store is bigger and allows for more inventory including meats, frozen foods, grocery items, toys, cards and other convenience items.
Every week Rentown offers specials on items in each department. Those specials are advertised in the store and local paper, or can be accessed by calling in to the store. Each week the specials include two meats and one cheese. Other specials could include produce, bakery or other products for the home.
Rentown is located at 1533 3rd Road in Bremen. Signs on U.S. Highway 6 can direct travelers to the store. For more information on the specials or to special-order baked goods, call 574-546-9010.