Step Back in Time at the General Mercantile in Nacogdoches
No plastic bristle push broom will do for Sheryl Hartz of Nacogdoches. She’s immersed this year in continuing a hobby she recently perfected: old-fashioned broom making.
She uses broomcorn whisks and a technique popularized by Shakers in the 1800s, and, as co-owner of the General Mercantile and Oldtime String Shop in the city’s historic downtown, says she got serious about the craft after a man offered antique broom factory equipment for a store display.
“We already carried brooms in our shop made by other makers,” she says, “so the seed of interest was certainly there.”
Days of old have always interested Hartz. Her shop is stocked with nostalgic items and decorated with antiques, and she and her husband, who runs the business with her, live in a home built in the mid-1800s. They also spend their free time performing in an old-time folk band, playing the fiddle and guitar.
“I guess you could say my general lifestyle naturally goes with the old art of making brooms,” she says.
After buying a foot-activated broom machine called a “kick winder,” she took personal instructions from a master broom-maker in Branson, Missouri. She buys the broomcorn from a craft material manufacturer, and her husband rounds up handles from wood found in parks and wooded areas.
“It was very exciting to finish my first broom,” she recalls. “Even though I took notes and pictures of the process while I was in Missouri, when I got back home, I ruined quite a few brooms before completing one that I felt was good enough to give as a gift or sell.”
From start to finish, a handmade push broom takes Hartz two to three hours to make.
“There are ways to make a broom more quickly and with lower quality materials,” she notes. “But it doesn’t sweep as well or last as long.”