Chris Tuttle retires from Amish Oak Furniture business he founded

·7 min read
Founded selling strictly Amish-made solid wood furniture, Chris Tuttle says today Amish Oak in Loudonville sells many types of furniture, posing here with some of them in the Loudonville store. Tuttle, who founded Amish Oak in 1982, retired from the business last week.
Founded selling strictly Amish-made solid wood furniture, Chris Tuttle says today Amish Oak in Loudonville sells many types of furniture, posing here with some of them in the Loudonville store. Tuttle, who founded Amish Oak in 1982, retired from the business last week.

LOUDONVILLE - Aug. 1 marked the end of a 40-year career at the helm of Amish Oak Furniture for Chris Tuttle. He founded the business in 1982.

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The idea for Amish Oak occurred in the early '80s when Tuttle was working as a counselor in Wooster, and was in the process of building a house for himself in rural western Holmes County.

“I spent a lot of my free time driving the rural Holmes County roads, and I came across an Amish man who built and sold solid wood furniture. I came up with an idea — fueled by the fact that at the time solid wood furniture was hard to find and anything considered ‘Amish’ carried value — of starting a business selling Amish-made solid wood furniture. I thought my concept, of Amish Oak Furniture, could be big.”

Around the same time, he discovered a building for rent in downtown Loudonville, at the corner of West Main and Spring streets, at a bargain rate because of the decline of the Flxible Co. in the village and its impact on local real estate.

“I thought Loudonville, with its already booming tourist trade, along with its proximity to Amish Country, would be a great place to start,” he said.

“When I first rented part of the building that once served as Porter’s Bakery, the rear part of it was used by an H&R Block tax franchise, and the upstairs housed a church,” he said. “I was still working my counselor job in Wooster, and would drive around Holmes County to pick up furniture after work, usually bringing it down to Loudonville Friday nights. There I met Scott Shoudt, our future police chief, who was cleaning the laundromat next door, and hired him to help me unload the furniture.

"After unloading, I would go across the street for a beer at the old Brass Plate restaurant," Tuttle added. "A waitress at the Brass Plate, Laura Adrian, introduced me to her sister, Pam, and eventually we were married. In our courtship, when Scott wasn’t available, I had Pam, a nurse, help me unload the furniture, a process she wasn’t thrilled with after working 12-hour nursing shifts.”

As his idea of a furniture store gained traction, he learned from his Amish furniture makers that he was much appreciated.

“They loved to work on making furniture, but when ‘tourists’ visiting Holmes County stopped by to look at it at their shops, it interrupted that work,” Tuttle said. "I still recall one of our first builders commenting on how it was much more productive for him to make several of the same items at once for me on a 'wholesale' basis, than having to constantly interact with the general retail public."

Economic situation in Holmes County helps Amish Oak Furniture

Also helping his business grow was the economic situation in Holmes County.

“There was only so much farmland there, and it was becoming very expensive,” he said. “If Amish families wanted to remain there, they had to come up with other ways to make a living, and furniture making was one of those ways.

“When I started, I dealt with six furniture makers,” he continued. “Today we work with over 80.”

As Amish Oak grew, Tuttle, over a 15-year period, purchased three adjacent downtown Loudonville buildings to increase his showroom space.

“Loudonville turned out to be a great place for an Amish furniture business, with customers rolling in from all over Ohio, along with, interestingly, many from Michigan,” he said. “With that growth, all sorts of competition started and we were no longer the only Amish solid wood furniture store. Instead, it seemed there was one opening in many area towns.

"We dealt with the competition by coming up with a wider variety of furniture products, and emphasizing quality," Tuttle added. "Some of the furniture we sold in the early days was kind of rough, but today’s products are close to perfect, quality wise.

“Emphasizing quality was a challenging concept for some of our furniture makers, who didn’t understand what difference it would make for a dripping of finish to form on the underside of a piece,” Tuttle continued.

Amish Oak outlets

Growth also led to additional Amish Oak outlets.

“A person set up an Amish Oak franchise in Norwalk, a business that did well for five years before the owner decided to pursue another business,” Tuttle said. “In the meantime, I was looking for a possible location in the Columbus area, finally deciding on Pataskala, on the east side. We’ve been running that store for 16 years.”

Tuttle said running the furniture business was a job that fit his personality very well.

“In this business, I had a wide variety of duties like meeting with and picking up furniture from our builders, selling furniture to customers and handling the back-room business and marketing details at my desk,” he said. “I enjoy doing a lot of tasks, and not getting bogged down on one.”

A year ago, Tuttle consummated the sale of Amish Oak to Terry and Luceeta Rohrer, who had a store called Miller's Furniture in Lancaster and were looking to expand.

“Mrs. Rohrer’s father founded Miller's Furniture in Plain City, Ohio, and was a friendly competitor of mine,” Tuttle said. “I had told him that I was thinking of selling the business as retirement time was approaching, and that ultimately led to the sale of my business to his daughter and son-in-law.

The sale took place on Aug, 1, 2021, with the stipulation that Tuttle continue to work in the business for a year to help with the transition.

“At first, I worked four-day weeks with them, but I have gradually cut it back to two,” he said.

Today seven people are employed at Amish Oak, down from a high of eight when the store warehouse was in full operation.

“We used to warehouse lots of furniture pieces, but as styles changed, selection grew and we added dozens of different finishes and many wood species, we found the need to stock large numbers in inventory no longer made sense” he said. “When we started in the early '80s, over 90% of the demand was for oak wood with a honey stain.”

He admitted: “I never pictured myself being in the furniture business, but I always figured I would be involved in some sort of business.”

Grew up in Parma, went to Ohio University and finished college at the University of Akron

Tuttle grew up in Parma, graduating from Normandy High School. He went to Ohio University for two years, but then had to return to Parma when his mother became ill.

“I needed to move back home and became guardian for my younger brother who was still finishing high school," he said.

He finished college at the University of Akron, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology.

He worked as a counselor for a total of eight years, starting first in Orrville and then Wooster.

Wife Pam is a nurse practitioner working in Mount Vernon. They had four sons, three still living, and two grandchildren.

To celebrate retirement, Tuttle is going on a cruise to Alaska with Pam.

“It’s a work cruise for her, continuing education right on the ship, but I am sure I will enjoy it,” he smiled.

Tuttle also raises beef cattle on their farm north of Loudonville, which will keep him busy, along with spending time with his two grandchildren.

"We were blessed with a granddaughter two years ago, which is a special treat for both Pam and I, having had all boys ourselves,” he said.

He has long been an active member and leader in the Loudonville business community.

He has served as one of the Loudonville area representatives on the Park National Bank board of directors for 30 years, starting when the local bank was known as the Farmers and Savings Bank; has been a board member of the Mohican Visitors Bureau since it started; for years was a member of Loudonville Rotary Club; was on the Samaritan Hospital Board for several years and has served on the Mohican Area Growth Foundation board since shortly after it was founded.

Tuttle also has been involved in the construction and maintenance of the Loudonville bike path, and leads fundraising efforts to maintain the path each year.

This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: THIS WEEK'S PERSONALITY: Tuttle retires from Amish Oak Furniture