New Holland, Pennsylvania is a small working class town set amid fields of corn, wheat and soybeans. Many stores along its main street carry farm equipment and hardware. There's a large chicken processing plant on the outskirts of town and a company that makes hay balers. There's not much here for tourists, but every day people come to New Holland from miles away to visit its Sales Stable where livestock are bought and sold.
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday are the biggest sales days. Hundreds of people show up pulling their trailers - hoping to take purchases home. The Stable's office manager, Michael McDermott, said they can bid on all kinds of livestock here.
"Horses, sheep and goats, hogs, baby calves - there's a lot of beef cattle and dairy cattle, as well," he said.
From the outside, the Sales Stable looks like an ordinary warehouse, but once you step inside it feels huge, busy and loud. The stable stretches the length of a city block. A large show ring surrounded by rows of bleacher seats dominates the interior. At the far end of the building are the animal barns.
"This is the biggest sales barn on the East Coast and it's been well known for years. And I remember when I was little, and I would come here with my parents, with my Dad. It is a well known town," she said.
Linda Martin still comes in. She's worked at the snack bar for 12 years. With 50 workers, the Sales Barn is one of the largest employers in New Holland. About a quarter of its work force is Amish - a Christian sect that stresses simplicity. Most of the Amish live on nearby farms with no electricity, cars or telephones. But, Michael McDermott said they're an important part of the town.
"They're the backbone of the industry here. The success of new Holland has a lot to thank for their participation," he said.
One local Amishman who's part of that success is 68 year old Christian Blank. He works as a janitor and animal handler at the Stable. Mr. Blank said that like a lot of other people, he started coming as a youngster. "I've been coming in here since I was 6 years old. I know the place. I'd probably come in here if I wasn't paid," he said.
But, he said many in his community need to be paid for their work, and they need to come into town for jobs. There's not enough available land now for Amish to farm.
"We change the most in how we make a living. I would say 50 years ago all the young folks that got married that year probably went to farming. This is 50 years later, over 125 couples got married last fall in the surrounding area, two went to farming. They work for general contractors. We got block layers, we got carpenters, anything that you want to build, they'll build. There's an Amish shop that's making computer equipment. They're using chips and setting things up," Mr. Blank.
While New Holland is a busy place from the horse and buggy shop at one end of Main Street to the police and fire departments at the other, the Sales Stable is the center of activity. And Michael McDermott said not just during the day.
"It's even a bit of a night out on Friday nights. Everybody brings the wife and kids. The men generally congregate toward the horse sale. You have your group of girls over here and you have your group of boys over there and it's just like an 8th grade dance. Deals are made behind the scenes. Buyers meet sellers. Generally, it's a night out on the town. You get to attend a horse sale," Mr. McDermott said.
As businesses come and go, the Sales Stable stays the same, and with agriculture still an important part of the economy here, it's likely to remain a Hew Holland landmark for years to come.