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More than three decades of winding and binding brooms

Posted at 8:57 PM, Jul 18, 2023

VICTOR — For more than three decades, Sam and Karen Morrison, have been winding and binding Shaker-style brooms inside their charmingly eclectic trading post tucked away in the sleepy town of Victor.

The Victor Trading Company is known for handcrafting a variety of items utilizing both equipment and skills that date all the way back to the 19th century; they produce tin cans, cookie cutters, candles, letterpress prints, and of course, brooms.

The brooms are (clearly) the focus of this particular story, they're modeled after the Shaker style (which dates back to the 1800s) and created utilizing an, "antique foot powered broom winder and stitching vise, circa 1900," according to the Trading Company's website.

The journey that took the couple, co-owners of the Victor Trading Company, from enthusiastic hobbyists to masters of broom-craft started with a vacation to Iowa and a visit to the Amana colonies, where they got the opportunity to watch a broom maker at work.

Immediately, Sam's reaction was, "We can do that," and so the two dove into the process of turning broom corn (the grain used to make brooms) into beneficial bristles.

This all started in the 90s (aka the pre-internet era), so their exploration into the wide world of brooms required travel and interviews, extensive research, and even reverse engineering; the two began collecting brooms to disassemble and recreate the inner workings of tools they aimed to produce.

"There's more inside a broom than you realize," commented Sam.

After a while, they no longer needed to pick apart brooms to discover their secrets, but their collection of stylized sweepers continued to expand as both they and their customer base continued to find and bring back spellbinding specimens.

"Well," Sam said genially, "now it's the world's largest broom collection, as far as I know."

At this point, the process of actually creating a broom from scratch takes the couple about an hour, with Karen winding the broom corn tightly around handle with wire and Sam binding the bristles together into the desired shape; at the end, the handle is given a brief polish and the bristles a quick trim and the cleaning implement is ready to go.

The two are proud of their work over the years, recounting that they've probably made in excess of 30,000 to 35,000 brooms in total, "Some days we don't make any," commented Karen, "some days we make as many as we can, which is never enough."

Never enough, because people have taken notice of the shop; the two recount that while many customers wander in not knowing what to expect, there's plenty of visitors who come to Victor specifically to grab a broom and check out the creation process.

Even larger institutions have taken notice of Sam and Karen's work, so much so that it's hard to keep track!

"I don't keep track," commented Karen, " I should, but I forget.

Even so, the couple remembers that Smithsonian purchased a broom for an exhibit, the Metropolitan and San Francisco Operas have purchased brooms, and several television shows and a few movies have purchased brooms.

Also, as a side note, movie companies (including Disney) have also purchased hundreds of their tin cans, which are made to accurately resemble can from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Focusing back on the brooms, apparently, this couple's attention to creating their product in a historically accurate way has been so successful, that often those encountering their work out in the world have a hard time believing that it was made by hand during this century.

"A few times we've seen them," said Sam, "it's kind of a strange feeling; like, oh yeah, I made that! But the people, if you talk to them, they don't believe you. I don't know who they think made the broom."

They've also had some similar interactions with folks coming into their shop, which (again) has a massive collection of antique brooms on the right-side wall, a letterpress printer in the left corner, rows of candles near the front door, and shelves upon shelves of tin cans (both their own and actual antiques), "People walk in," said Sam, "and they'll look around and say, you bought it like this. No, this was all me, we did this."

"You inherited this," continued Karen on the same thought, "it was your parents."

"No," finished Sam, "it was an empty building, this was all us."

It's one of the big things that this dynamic duo wants others to know about them and their business, "We live the life," said Sam, "this is us; it's not some phony, Hollywood veneer, this is real."

"We live upstairs," finished Karen, "our house kind of looks like this too, so there's no difference, it's all the same."

When asked how much longer they thought would be in the business of brooms, Karen laughed and responded, "Probably another 35 [years], I don't think we can quit, people won't let us! They won't."

To learn more about Sam and Karen and the Victor Trading Company, click here.
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