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Many finding stars a bright decorating idea

Sunday, May 21, 2006

By Lynda Guydon Taylor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

J. Lo's got it. So do Hines Ward and Angelina Jolie.

Credit their smiles and charisma. Call it star power.

Now Washington County houses can claim it, too. Stars are turning up on houses more and more these days.

Drive down a road or street in Washington, South Strabane, West Middletown or rural Buffalo, to name a few, look up and there's another five-point star in red, green, blue or what have you. About 3 to 4 feet across, they're usually made of tin or other metal and affixed prominently on the front of the house.

"They are really popular," said Jamie Stutzman, manager of Sol's Exchange, a crafts mall in Berlin, Ohio, the heart of the Buckeye state's Amish country.

The mall has always carried stars, but in the past year or two, they have really taken off, Ms. Stutzman said.

A couple of times a week, Sol's gets questions about stars; most notably, what do they mean? Some people think they have some religious aspect, said Ms. Stutzman, although she is unsure of their derivation.

Although she declined to estimate how many are sold each week, she did say the 450 crafts people who sell items through the store have become quite competitive and adept in marketing the hot-ticket item.

Take, for instance, the colors. Ms. Stutzman said she saw one painted in Ohio State University's colors: red, gray and white. Some crafters make them in different textures, lending their own styles to the latest in domestic exterior design.

"It's neat to see what people come up with," Ms. Stutzman said.

Some expand to 41/2 feet, she said, but the standard size is about 3 feet across.

While stars now are strictly decorative, there is a practical basis for their use, according to Scott Doyle, historic preservation specialist for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Masonry stars, as they are known, were used throughout the country in the 1700s.

Now regarded mostly as an ornamental, trendy thing for the home, the stars were at one time very practical.

They came into play as reinforcement for a building, such as a mill or factory, that would undergo stress or when the foundation shifted, threatening to collapse the brick or stone walls. The star or sometimes a circle was mounted on the exterior of the wall and then a rod, extending six to 10 feet into the building and through floor joists, was run through the center of the star, according to Mr. Doyle.

A metal plate and nut secured the rod. That provided a fixed tension to keep the unstable masonry in place. The star or circle was used to distribute the weight evenly on the outside of the building.

Their use remained prevalent throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, but as building technology improved, there was less need for them.

Rheba Flowers, of West Middletown, chooses to believe there is a second reason for the stars. She found a green star for her home, which she bought in Sugar Creek, Ohio.

"I think it originated with the Amish. They're supposed to bring good luck and fortune, and it kind of shows your pride in America," she said, referring to the stars in the flag.

She said she learned that the Amish had been decorating with stars since the Civil War.

The clerk at the place where she bought hers told her they were called primitive barn stars and were originally made of the same kind of sheet metal used on the roofs of barns.

She put hers up in March, replacing a decorative eagle that had been on the house about 25 years. Her house is 50 years old.

"I'd only seen them two or three places and I really didn't know much about them. I told my husband [Bert], I really like those stars."

On a trip to Ohio's Amish country, she saw the stars and had to have one.

Mrs. Flowers chose green because that is supposed to represent growth. She said brown is meant to represent friendship, blue, peace; black, protection; orange or rust, abundance, and red, emotion.
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If it's made of wood, fabric, yarn, metal or just about any other craft medium,

Have you ever said to yourself, "Well, now I've seen everything"? Let me tell you, you haven't seen everything until you've visited Sol's in Berlin, an arts and crafts extravaganza.

Susie Stutzman, who owns the business with her husband JR, told me, "Back in 1993, when we started the mall, we were the first handicraft business in the area. There were mostly furniture places and other wood-working establishments in and around Berlin back then. We saw a need for this type of store, so we opened up Sol's. We named it after my husband's grandfather, Sol Hostetler, a very humble man who had been a carpenter in the area. Everyone knew him around here. We thought his name would be easier for people to remember than the 'this-or-that' shop."

I recently visited the mall for the first time, and I discovered 30,000 square feet of wonderful handcrafted items lovingly tucked in nearly every nook and cranny of the tri-level mall. According to Susie, 450 different crafters have booth space rented at Sol's, and nearly 10 percent of these are Amish. The crafters have become part of the Stutzmans' extended family, she said.

"We don't purchase items to sell," Susie continued. "This is all about the crafters and their products."

Actually, Sol's is divided into three sections: Sol's Exchange, Sol's Palace, and Sol's Kit-n-Kaboodle (this last area has more pre-purchased items and collectibles, like dolls, baseball cards, etc.). One section just leads right into the next, and you'll have to allow yourself plenty of time to browse so you'll not miss anything. I'm telling you, this place is massive!

"It's fun to hear people as they come in the store for the first time," Susie said. "They take a couple steps inside and say, 'Oh, my gosh!' They're overwhelmed by how much we have on display."

I began walking up and down the aisles of booths so I could jot down the different items available. I thought I'd print a list for you. Well that idea went right out the window because I had a page full and I'd barely gotten ten feet away from where I'd started, and had way too many feet yet to go! Let me put it this way: if it's made of wood, fabric, yarn or just about any other craft medium, you'll find it at Sol's. There are things for your home, for your garden, for all the holidays and for gifts.

Sol's also provides many services to its customers. Besides shipping items to your home (who has room in the car for all the things you purchase on vacation?), they are sort of like personal shoppers for some of their customers.

"People get home and then wish they'd bought a certain item while they were in the store," Susie explained. "So they call or e-mail us to see if it's still here or if we have it in a different color. We hunt around until we find what theyre describing, and then send it to them. This happens a lot. Sometimes we take a photo of an item and e-mail it to the customer to be sure its the exact thing they wanted."

I'm not sure if it's a service or just a way to get people to buy outdoor furniture, but you'll find a whole row of different types of rocking chairs and Adirondack-style chairs lining the porches around Sol's. During warm weather, these rockers are usually occupied by men waiting for their wives to finish shopping inside!

"And we often take a radio out to the porch if there's an Indians' (baseball) or Ohio State (football) game on," Susie said. "The men love that. And, if it's close to the end of the game, and the wives have finished their shopping, the men tell them to go back inside and shop a little more until the game's over!"

Many customers come to Sol's from the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Mansfield and Columbus areas, as well as a large contingent from West Virginia. Susie also said, besides the local customers, of course, and those from other parts of Ohio, they've seen people from all over the country and abroad.

"We have one couple from Ireland," Susie said, "that comes in about four times a year. They just love our place. We really get to know our repeat customers."

Sol's in Berlin will be having their February Frolic Sale from the 13th through the 18th (2006). Everything will be 10 percent off! What a fantastic deal! Be sure to plan a trip to Amish Country in general -- and Sol's in particular -- during that week.

Sol's in Berlin -- PO Box 280, W. Main St., Berlin, OH 44610, (330) 893-3134,; winter hours: daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; summer hours: daily, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
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Parade to Round Out Harvest Fest Activities

Release Date: Jun. 04, 2007
Parade to Round Out Harvest Fest Activities

For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Shasta Mast, 330-674-3975

Berlin, OH The Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau today announced a Harvest Fest parade on Sept. 8, 2007, will replace the annual Holmes County Independence Day Parade.

Since July 2003, the Chamber and Berlin Main Street Merchants have jointly organized an Independence Day Parade over the Fourth of July weekend. This year, they hope to increase participation and make the parade a component of a fun-filled day by coinciding with the annual Berlin Harvest Fest.

"Moving the parade and combining it with Harvest Fest definitely benefits tourists and locals alike," said Joe Stutzman, President of the Berlin Main Street Merchants. "September is a great time of year for a parade, it adds to an already successful event, and will increase participation from our local schools and community."

While the July parade drew nearly 100 entries each year and lined the streets with spectators, finding local marching bands to participate was always a challenge.

"Most high-school marching bands take a much-needed break in July. In addition, veteran groups are in shorter supply over the Fourth. We also felt we needed to offer the crowds who came to Berlin for the parade more in the way of activities and food. Moving the parade to Harvest Fest makes perfect sense," said Shasta Mast, Executive Director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.

Harvest Fest includes a mouth-watering rib cook-off, where designated judges select the first-place winner and anyone with a hankering for barbeque can vote for second place. In addition, other food vendors will set up shop in downtown Berlin and musicians will perform on the square from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The Harvest Fest Parade will step off at 5 p.m. on U.S. 62 in front of Berlin Mennonite Church. The parade will continue west on SR 39 and end at the Berlin Elementary School.

The parade route was shortened this year to accommodate small children and older adults who had trouble walking all the way to Hummel Insurance. Parade sign-in will be located behind John's Furniture Gallery.

If you are interested in participating in the Harvest Fest Parade, please call the Chamber office at 330-674-3975 or send an e-mail to

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Spring Is Here!

Sol's is located in the heart of Amish Country, Berlin, Ohio. Our three stores: Sol's Palace, Sol's Exchange, and Sol's Kit-N-Kaboodle are brimming with an exciting assortment of crafts. Wood crafts, handmade dolls, goose clothes, candles, ceramics, and floral arrangements are just a few of the numerous items available to provide customers with one stop shopping. ... More »

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