Business is "brooming" for 81-year-old traveling salesman

(CBS News) LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Do you need a new broom? A lot of folks who don't think they do wind up buying one anyway from the man we met..."on the road."

"Yeah, I'm doing real good this morning," said Melvin Pickens, who, at 81, doesn't need to work. Being legally blind, he never had to work much.

But Melvin still works -- as a traveling salesman. "I just can't sit around and not do nothing," he explained.

According to family, Melvin Pickens, now 81, started selling brooms around 1950 -- worked six days a week to support his wife and their four children at the time.
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With the help of a caretaker friend, Melvin goes around to businesses in Little Rock, Arkansas, asking the owners and their customers to buy one of his brooms. That's basically all he sells -- $10 brooms.

"I'd say about 20-25 years," said Melvin of the number of years he's been doing this. "Well, I'm just estimating."

However, it may be that Melvin is estimating way off because we heard he's been doing this 63 years. "It's hard to say," said Melvin. "I've been doing it so long."

According to family, Melvin started selling brooms around 1950 and worked six days a week to support his wife and their four children. His wife has since died and the kids are grown, but that work ethic just will not go away.

In fact, some people say he's the best salesman they've ever seen. "He's got a special magic about him," said one customer.

One of Melvin Pickens' customers.
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"You just can hardly turn him down," said another.

Not that people don't try to say no -- they just rarely get away with it.

"I don't need one today because I've already got one," Mary Clare Brierley told Melvin. "But I may need one next week."

"You know what, you ought to just buy today," Melvin told her. "I might not see you next week."

Sale closed.

"I don't think you can approach him and not buy one," Brierley later told us.

She got one and so did another person. At this point, Little Rock has got to be the best swept city in America -- or maybe just one the kindest.

Or maybe people here simply like having him around as a living example.

"You can't quit," said Melvin. "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits, you know."

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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