Numerous news stories have circulated in Arkansas in recent years on Melvin Pickens – our beloved “Broom Man.” You have probably seen him as a fixture in the Heights for years selling his brooms. The had a big spread on him over the weekend.
Now it looks like national news has taken an interest in his story of hard work and overcoming the struggles of life. Everette Hatcher runs the company from which Pickens buys his brooms, Little Rock Broom Works. He tells me that Steve Hartman was in town interviewing Pickens for a segment he believes will air nationally on Friday at 5:30 p.m. on CBS Evening News for their “On The Road” segment.
Hatcher recalls the day some 30 years ago when he first meet Pickens selling brooms at Shipley Donuts. Pickens did not know Hatcher owned the company where he bought his brooms.
“Melvin was at Shipley Donuts on Cantrell Road back on a Saturday morning in 1983 and I was there with my wife Jill Sawyer Hatcher. We were dating back then. He approached our table and asked if we wanted to buy a broom for $7. I told him that was a healthy profit, and he said that he only made a few cents off of that. Then I revealed who I was and we got a laugh out of it,” recalls Hatcher.
The friendship was formed between the two and some running jokes have developed over the years including selling the brooms to “Jim.”
“I have always had a stack of brooms that have scratches on the handles and we sell them to Melvin at a discount. On one occasion, I had been out of town and the five dozen of cheaper brooms had been sold during that time to Melvin, but when I got back on Monday, Melvin showed up and asked me if there were any cheap brooms,” said Hatcher. “I replied that I thought we had some, but Jim Howard must have bought them. Little did I know that Jim Howard had died a few months earlier. Melvin told me that if Jim Howard had come back from the dead and bought those brooms, then he wanted nothing to do with Little Rock Broom Works any more.”
After that, Hatcher would always threaten to sell any extra discounted broom inventory to “Jim” if Pickens did not buy them.
But Hatcher says that it clear Pickens is a businessman – keeping track of his profit margin and discussing which broom his customers would like best. Hatcher tells me that a few years ago he got Perkins to switch to a different brand – the red handle Airlight Broom – that does a much better job sweeping without leaving anything behind. “When he did, it approximately doubled his sales,” said Hatcher.
Hatcher also tells a story of noticing that Pickens was a Dodger fan. He asked him how that came to be in an area filled with Cardinals, Rangers, and Braves fans.
“He told me that he has been a fan of the Dodgers ever since he was a 10th grader at Henry Clay Yerger High School in Hope when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers stood up to the other baseball owners and brought Jackie Robinson onto the team,” said Hatcher.
These stories are just a few of many from those who know the “Broom Man.” He is a rich part of Little Rock folklore, and I am looking forward to seeing them shared with the nation.