Sweeping Into the Past
A young Church Hill resident, who started his career by building E-commerce websites for multimillion-dollar retailers, has gone back in time for the second phase of his professional life. Drew Dayberry has transitioned from competing in the high-tech industry of the 21st century to running a startup business that would’ve been right at home in 18th-century America.
It’s been a fascinating journey for Dayberry, who runs Roaring Pines at 2025 Venable St. in Church Hill. He grew disillusioned with building E-commerce sites for large companies, so he started working with smaller American manufacturers. In 2013, he decided to take the best of those products and start his own business selling American-made goods online.
With a background in retail, the budding businessman set out to open his own brick-and-mortar store about two years ago, so he could offer customers a variety of high-quality products. “Brooms impressed me the most,” he says. His interest could have been sparked by the fact that his handmade American brooms were in such huge demand that “they kept disappearing,” he explains. “A lot of people want brooms.”
While recognizing the popularity of handmade brooms, he also realized that there weren’t many broom makers left. “Their median age was about 75,” he estimates. “Not many young people were taking up the torch.
Armed with that knowledge, the young entrepreneur decided to learn the trade. He enlisted a 90-something broom maker in West Virginia, as well as a couple of craftsmen in North Carolina, to teach him the basics of the business.
To Dayberry, making brooms has become somewhat of a passion. “We have such a long history of broom making in America,” he says, explaining that the good ol’ American broom is made of broomcorn, once a major agricultural product grown throughout much of the United States, especially in the Midwest. Today, most of the broomcorn (not corn at all, but rather sorghum) he uses comes from Texas and northern Mexico.
“The brooms that are generally sold in the big-box stores have a little broomcorn on the outside but contain filler grass on the inside,” he explains. That’s the stuff that falls out when you try to sweep.
While continuing to further his broom-making education, Dayberry has learned the art of making decorative, traditional and Appalachian-style brooms. In order to increase his personal production, he’s recently purchased a stitching machine from the elderly broom maker in West Virginia. A really good handmade broom can sell for around $20. Some are a little less; more decorative brooms can go for up to $50.
You have to see these brooms for yourself. They’re not the machine-made polypropylene brooms that you often find in larger stores. Those brooms, Dayberry says, “are garbage at the end of the day.” His goal for 2018 is to help educate consumers and to get more of the genuine handmade brooms into the bigger retail outlets.
While his brooms are a hot commodity, there’s a lot more to be found at Roaring Pines, which he named as a nod to a line in a song from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.* This quaint little general store also carries dust pans, wooly mops, galvanized mop buckets, canvas totes, mason jars, a variety of cleaning agents … and the list goes on. A more extensive list can be found at RoaringPines.com.
Dayberry’s little shop on the corner has one more item that brings in the customers — coffee. Wanting to create a social atmosphere that mirrors the general stores of a bygone era, he decided to add a coffee bar. In addition to quality espressos, you can buy drinks from the old-fashioned soda fountain. “We take pride in creating new beverages,” he says. “We haven’t abandoned the classics, though; we still serve up egg creams, creamsicles and root beers over crushed ice.”
It all comes together beautifully. Roaring Pines is certainly a nice enough name for the place, but if your top two products are coffee and brooms, Strawbucks might be even better.
*In case you’re wondering, here’s Tolkien’s poetry that gave the store its name:
The pines were roaring on the height, The wind was moaning in the night. The fire was red, it flaming spread; The trees like torches blazed with light.