NAPPANEE — Sad and shocked. Those were the two words most often used to describe how Nappanee was reacting to the sudden news of the closing of Amish Acres. But, residents also expressed gratitude for the impact that the Pletcher family has had on the city over the past 50 years and more.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Kitson said, “I’m extremely happy and excited for the Pletcher family, but at the same time I’m extremely sad. We are losing a business that for over 50 years has brought tourists to Nappanee to learn about the Anabaptist faith.”
Kitson said Amish Acres has employed over 10,000 employees over the years and has had over 5 million visitors. “I was in shock,” he admitted upon hearing the news.
Kitson has a personal relationship with the family as well as a professional one. Over 20 years ago when he was still single he worked with the Pletcher family’s youngest daughter’s husband, Andy Wysong. He said the Pletcher family took him under their wings, treated him like one of the family and gave him a better understanding of culture and the arts.
He expressed his love for the family and said, “I wish nothing but the best for the entire Pletcher family. We want them to continue to live, work and play in Nappanee. We’re grateful for all the support every one of them has given to Nappanee both publicly and privately.”
Founder and owner Richard “Dick” Pletcher recently informed his employees of their decision to retire. He had not intended to go public with the news yet, but a posting by one of those employees on social media spread rapidly. On Friday afternoon, Pletcher confirmed their decision.
“It’s been 50 years so it’s a retirement,” Pletcher said. “It will be closing after the fireworks on Dec. 31 and will be auctioned in the spring. ... I think 50 years is a good run. We’ve had fun.”
Nappanee Mayor Phil Jenkins said he received an email from Dick Pletcher the day before the news broke saying that Pletcher informed him they were retiring and Amish Acres would be closing after the fireworks on Dec. 31. The mayor said he was shocked to receive that news.
“The impact they’ve had on this community for over 50 years has been tremendous. This will leave a void economically and tourism-wise,” Jenkins said. “We appreciate everything the Pletchers have done for this community — even prior to Amish Acres with the furniture store and the beginnings of the Arts and Craft Festival. They’ve made a lasting impression on Nappanee. It’s sad but we wish the family well in retirement.”
A former longtime employee Susan Nunemaker also said, “I think it’s sad. Amish Acres’ whole purpose when it started was to educate people about the Amish culture. It’s sad it’s not going to be there anymore. It’s a landmark tourist destination. People from Chicago or Detroit who’ve never been on a farm had the chance to do so. When this gets out nationally it’s going to have an impact.”
Nunemaker worked as hotel manager for the Nappanee Inn and the Inn at Amish Acres for 16 years. She started in 1990-2006 and was also the dining room manager at the restaurant barn on Sundays.
Nunemaker said people were contacting her about the news all day on Friday expressing their sadness of not being able to take their families for annual events. She said the news of the closing was “Huge. I’m really saddened.”
Jenkins said as far as the impact on the city, “We’ve been through difficult times before. We’re resilient. We will work with Dick in helping to make the transition and through the sale of the property. We want to make sure we do as much as we can as a city and a chamber to help.”
“My heart has a big hole in it. All of Nappanee has a big hole in it,” Kitson said. “I was in shock.”
Jenkins said, “I know this is not really how Dick wanted things to go,” as far as going public with the news, “but we respect them and appreciate them.”
Kitson said, “I’m broken. We’re losing a business that helped put Nappanee’s tourism on the map. This will have an impact in Nappanee and all over Elkhart County.”