CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the world of broom making, Jim Shaffer is the last man standing.
Shaffer, 82, shapes and binds dried corn bristles into about 250 brooms a week in his dusty shop.
He's made brooms for 65 years, after he took his first job at Charleston Broom Co. when the factory stood on what is now a Laidley Field parking lot. When business was brisk, the 20 broom factory employees made about 3,600 brooms a week.
"I started there when I was 17 years old. Some boys I knew worked there, so I quit school and got a job there too," he said. He grew up near the site of the Loudendale shop he built in 1986 when he took over the business from the Goshorn family.
His prices are $8 for a household broom and $10 for a heavy-duty one. He doesn't sell enough to make a living but, he said, the money supplements his Social Security check.
"Of course, my check's not very big because I never made a lot of money," Shaffer said.
Like most of the broom factory employees, Shaffer usually received the minimum wage. With a wife and three sons to support, he supplemented his income by doing work on the side.
The bottom dropped out of the broom business when big store chains began purchasing brooms made inexpensively in Mexico, where labor costs are low and the broom corn is grown.
"We lost our wholesale customers. There used to be 15 grocer and hardware wholesalers that carried our brooms," he said. Customers included Kroger, Heck's, The Diamond and even Macy's in New York.
Today, Shaffer sells the majority of his brooms to Lions Clubs throughout West Virginia, where members sell them as a fundraiser for the clubs. Occasional customers wander into his shop, where they walk through the bales of broom bristles and mop supplies to his workroom.
Shaffer toils on antique machines, some more than 100 years old. They still work well, thanks to Shaffer's skills as a machinist.