Best Kept Secrets Tour, a self-guided tour company designed to connect customers with small businesses while supporting charities and the surrounding areas, announced that tickets are now on sale for the Lebanon and Schuylkill counties’ spring tour that will begin this April.

Melissa Nordhoff, a 56-year-old Ephrata resident, founded Best Kept Secrets Tour in 2008 while she was a manager at Carson’s in the Cornfields, her mother’s Lancaster County-based small business. At the time, the business was looking for an affordable way to advertise and attract customers.

Nordhoff was able to leverage the knowledge and skills she acquired while working in advertising at several newspapers and magazines in Delaware and Maryland, including what she deemed her “claim to fame” with Walter Cronkite at Annapolitan Magazine, in her work at Carson’s in the Cornfields, and later, at Best Kept Secrets Tour.

“I also wanted to raise funds for a charity, so the tour was born,” Nordhoff told LebTown in a written statement. “Over my 15 years, I’ve been able to direct literally thousands of new customers through the doors of local mom-and-pop shops and raise over $149,000 for local nonprofits.”

A comprehensive list of which counties and nonprofit organizations have received these donations can be accessed here.

“Being basically a one-woman show, I am only able to run so many tours myself, but small businesses in all counties greatly benefit from having a tour in their area, and customers love the shopping adventure featuring their own backyards,” Nordhoff wrote. “Therefore, I added an option for interested folks to run tours in their own counties.”

Nordhoff stated she does not pursue tour organizers but instead waits for someone to approach her about starting a new tour and then assesses whether that person would be a good candidate for the role of tour organizer. If so, Nordhoff provides them with resources, training, and guidance for organizing a tour.

Sara Snyder, 47, and Carl Krampitz, 53, were themselves on a tour in Lancaster County in 2022 when they had a chance meeting with Nordhoff.

“We asked [Nordhoff] when she was going to bring it up to Schuylkill County,” Krampitz said. “And she said she couldn’t do it, but if we were interested in trying to pursue it ourselves, she’d be more [than] happy to support us and get us going.”

Following their conversation, Snyder and Krampitz eventually assumed the responsibilities of organizing the spring tour for Lebanon and Schuylkill counties, with more than a decade’s worth of tour history in Lebanon County and unchartered touring possibilities in Schuylkill County.

“My heart lies with all small businesses in any county because I know firsthand how difficult it is to succeed, and I truly believe small business is the backbone of our economy,” Nordhoff wrote. “But I also have a special affinity for Lebanon County, as my daughter worked as a sexual assault prevention specialist at SARCC for several years.”

This is the first tour that Krampitz, an 18-year Lebanon County resident who has lived the past three years in Schuylkill County, and Snyder, a Lancaster County native who also now lives in Schuylkill County, are working part-time and full-time, respectively, to organize.

While most tours through Best Kept Secrets Tour are organized by one person, Krampitz said, “We’re planning to expand into other counties. And that’s why, with us paired up, we have multiple counties going at one time that each of us can focus on a different county when it comes to that.”

The part-time positions at Best Kept Secrets Tour involve organizing one to two tours per year, and the full-time positions involve organizing several tours per year in several counties. Tour organizers also have the agency to select when tours will run and which charities they will support.

The organizational process behind a tour takes about six months. The first step to organizing the tour is to explore a county’s back roads and visit small businesses, assess whether the tour and the small business would mutually benefit, and approach the owners about applying to be part of the tour. This process takes about four to six weeks.

“We make lists of the businesses that we think would be good fits, and we go visit them personally and try to recruit them that way,” Krampitz said. “And then, we do follow-ups, usually with phone calls or emails, as it gets close to the deadline for them to apply to be part of the tour.”

Nordhoff stated her business has brought her to a variety of interesting places, including vehicle museums, broom makers, lavender farms, goat dairies, and a pear orchard in Berks County that grows a type of Asian pear called Subarashii Kudamono.

“They offered me a tour of their orchard,” Nordhoff wrote. “As we walked through the rows and rows of trees, I noticed workers tying brown paper bags around each pear on the branch. Each tree had hundreds of hand-tied bags. The amount of work was staggering to me. The reason for the bags is twofold — one is to protect from pests and disease, but the main reason was to keep the skin thin and delicate. After my tour, I was treated to samples, and I can assure you the taste of these specialty pears was astonishing.”

When asked if there were any stories from along the way that she would be willing to share with readers, Nordhoff stated, “Sometimes, as I’m looking for new businesses, I run into some scary situations. One involved the noble turkey.”

“I pulled into the driveway of an Amish woodworker’s business. I’m used to dogs, cats — and even piglets — greeting me when I exit my car. But this time, a massive Tom turkey was casually walking my way. He looked harmless, so I gathered my things to present the tour concept to the business owner.”

“Just as I closed and locked the door, Tom turkey puffed up his feathers and started gobbling — and not in a welcoming way. Not wanting to turn my back on him, I started backing towards the store. Tom strutted aggressively between me and the door, so I decided to get back in my car.”

“When I turned towards my vehicle, he charged. I was so stunned I dropped my keys on the ground. Tom started chasing me around my car, pecking the tires as he went around. Here I am, dressed in a business suit and heels, running around my car to keep from being pecked by a turkey. I’m yelling ‘Hello? Hello? Can anyone help me? Hello?’

“Luckily, before Tom caught up with me, a very brave, very heroic, barefoot 4-year-old with a broom toddled out and shooed Tom away.” Nordhoff is also the author of a mystery novel, Last Will and Puzzlement, which is set in Lancaster County.

After the application period ends and the small business applications are accepted, tour organizers start to work on the other elements of the tour, including creating a booklet about the participating small businesses and a map, acquiring coupons for customers to use during their visits, curating goodie bags, selecting a nonprofit to support, and generally promoting the tour.

Goodie bags for the Best Kept Secrets Tour in Wertz Candies, a chocolatier and candy story in downtown Lebanon. (LebTown)

“Behind the scenes, we get everything organized that we need from them as far as all the information for in the tour books. If we’re doing goodie bags, all their items for in the goodie bags and all of that,” Snyder said. “And then we start selling the tickets about two months ahead.”

The Lebanon and Schuylkill counties’ spring tour will run from Thursday, April 18, through Saturday, May 4.

Anywhere up to 40 small businesses participate in an average tour, with the spring tour featuring 19 small businesses based in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties. These businesses are required to have certain hours to allow many tourgoers to visit them.

Display for the Best Kept Secrets Tour in Lebanon’s Wertz Candies, which is on the tour. (LebTown)

When customers purchase a ticket for the spring tour, they receive a booklet, a map, coupons, goodie bags or refreshments, gifts, demonstrations, or games at each location. They are also entered into a variety of raffles, including one to win a shopping spree and one to win a gift card prize package.

Tickets cost $12, with $1 from half of the tickets being donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters and $1 from half of the tickets being donated to BIG.

A fall tour for Lebanon and Dauphin counties is also in the works. It will run from Thursday, Sept. 12, through Saturday, Sept. 28. Ticket pricing and the specified charity for this tour will be announced later this year.

“Fifteen years ago, I could not have imagined the scope of the business nor the positive impact it has had on small businesses and nonprofits,” Nordhoff reflected. “I truly feel privileged to do this work. Though there obviously have been tweaks to how the tour runs, the general concept has remained the same over the years.”

Since 2008, Best Kept Secrets Tour has expanded its tours into more than a dozen counties located in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Support local journalism.

Cancel anytime.


🌟 Annual

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.


LebTown membership required to comment.

Already a member? Login here

Leave a comment

Your email address will be kept private.