Melvin Pickens the Broom Man in Little Rock

Melvin Pickens,

On the Road: 81-year-old salesman sweeps customers off their feet

Published on Sep 20, 2013

As part of our continuing series “On the Road,” Steve Hartman meets an 81-year-old salesman who’s been in business for over six decades selling one simple product that everyone needs.

___________

Here is a picture that appeared in Ark Times today:

ON THE JOB: Melvin Pickens strolls Kavanaugh in a 2011 photo.

  • Brian Chilson
  • ON THE JOB: Melvin Pickens strolls Kavanaugh in a 2011 photo.

Melvin Pickens has shown up at Little Rock Broom Works almost every afternoon for about 60 years to purchase brooms and then a few months ago he went into the hospital. I visited him there and he seemed to be in good spirits and was hopeful that he hit the street again. However, he is going to have do his business from his home from now on. Lots of people across the USA are wondering what red handle broom Melvin Pickens sells in Little Rock and it is the Airlight  made by Little Rock Broom Works! There is a websitehttp://www.theairlightbroom.com that tells all about the Airlight Broom. Max Brantley of the
Arkansas Times was nice enough to run a story on him and encourage people to get in touch with Melvin. Max noted, “Friends ask that I say a word about a familiar Little Rock person — Melvin Pickens, the Broom Man. He’s walked the streets of Little Rock selling brooms and mops since I came to town 40 years ago. A Facebook page post reports that health problems have confined him to his apartment in Cumberland Towers, though he welcomes well-wishers and, at this writing, still had a supply of brooms on hand for those who’d like to drop by and purchase one.”

Here is an article on Melvin Pickens that appeared a few years ago but the link to Carti no longer works:

SELLING BROOMS WITH STYLE by Mark Carter, Perspective Writer * Photos by Bob Ocken

12 * CARTI Perspective * Fall 2005 Fall 2005 * CARTI Perspective * 13

An entire generation – maybe even two – of
Little Rock residents knows the Broom Man. He’s been
a fixture at the Smokehouse, at Shipley’s Donuts, and at
shops up and down Kavanaugh in the Heights for years.
It’s second nature to him now, so much so that
even he’s not sure how long he’s been selling brooms.
“How long?” he said.”It’s been a long time, let’s put
it that way.”
Customers at the Smokehouse on a Wednesday
morning in August remembered the Broom Man from
their childhoods. Estimates come in at 40 years on the
job, at least as far as they can remember Pickens
roaming the neighborhood with his brooms.
Pickens made a bit of a detour in March – he and
his brooms found their way to CARTI/St.Vincent.
Although he hadn’t experienced any symptoms, a
routine check-up revealed something was wrong. His
urologist discovered the cancer and referred him
to CARTI.
“I’m really grateful she did,” Pickens said. “CARTI
has been really, really good to me.”
He completed treatment in eight weeks, and the
prognosis so far is good.
“I know the Lord’s gonna deliver me from
cancer,” Pickens said.”When you put your trust in God
and do what you’re supposed to do, everything’s
gonna be all right.”
Pickens, a grandfather of 10, is completely at
ease talking about his faith. It’s helped him endure
blindness – both his own partial blindness and that of
his wife of 46 years, Dorothy, who is legally blind – the
loss of two of his five children,and now cancer. His faith
has been a source of strength.
“Now I can tell people who have cancer, don’t
worry,” Pickens said. “Just accept it, and let God’s
will be done.”
Pickens credits God for his ongoing recovery from
cancer, but is quick to praise his entire treatment team
at CARTI/St.Vincent, including drivers Levi Mackey and
Albert Strickland, who picked him up at his house each
day of treatment.
“I give CARTI a lot of the credit,” he said.”They were
so nice to me. If I had to do it over again, I’d do the
same thing.”
Pickens arrived in Little Rock in 1957 from his
hometown of Hope, six years after high school. He
attended the Arkansas School for the Blind for a time,
and soon became involved with the non-profit
organization Lighthouse for the Blind, an advocacy
group for the blind and partially-sighted. And it was
through Lighthouse that he began selling brooms.
These days, the brooms come from Little Rock
Broomworks. Pickens gets a cut of each one sold. He
starts out at the Smokehouse, where the staff often feeds
him breakfast, then walks around the corner to Shipley’s
Donuts. It’s not uncommon on a
Saturday morning to see folks
leaving Shipley’s with a box of
donuts in one hand and a broom
in the other.
From there, he catches the
bus and takes the short ride over
to Kavanaugh, where he stops by
Sully’s Barber Shop and other
neighborhood haunts. And
where, after all these years, Pickens is as much a part of
the landscape as the old Heights Theater building.
Many homes in that part of town can boast an
impressive cache of brooms.Depending on the weather
and the pace of sales, Pickens may call it a day on
Kavanaugh. Or, if the weather is good and there are
brooms left to sell, he may wind up over at Parker
Cadillac in west Little Rock.
“Some days are pretty good,” he said.”Some days I
don’t sell nothing. But everybody is always so nice to
me. I don’t have any problems at all. I try to carry myself
a certain way – I give respect and get respect. If you do
the right thing, you’ll make it all right.”
That approach to life has served Pickens well. He
has volunteered on numerous city
committees and been active in
community affairs.
Watching him interact with
people, it’s clear his kindness
is contagious.
“If I can say a kind word to lift
somebody up in spirit, that’s all I
want to do,” he said. “It’s not what
people can do for you, but what you
can do for somebody.”
In his own way,Pickens has etched out a special place
in the heart of an entire Little Rock generation, or two.
“I don’t mind the sight or the cancer,” he said.
“There’s a place in society for everybody if you
apply yourself.”
I give CARTI a lot of
the credit,” he said.
“They were so nice to
me. If I had to do it
over again, I’d do the
same thing.”

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