The Magazine of South Carolina

Cloggers' Delights From Salem, USA

Patsy and Carl Blanton and their staff produce 5,500 pairs of clogging shoes in some 40 sizes - 40 percent of the national clogging shoe market - each year at their Salem plant.

by Juanita B. Garrison

Whenever you hear staccato, toe-tapping clogging - almost anywhere in the country - there is a 40-percent chance the clogger is wearing shoes made in a small manufacturing plant in the South Carolina mountain town of Salem. Carl and Patsy Blanton have been making clogging shoes there since 1993. The only other manufacturer is in Arkansas.

Carl is a Gaffney native, Patsy from Cliffside, NC. Both work in the plant, assisted by Marie Smith, Randy Talley and others as needed. They turn out an average of a hundred-plus pairs of men's, women's and children's shoes each week.

Most of the shoes are white; they also make blue, gold, silver, red, amethyst and fuschia. The bright colors, Patsy explains, usually are bought by competition teams to match their costumes.

Carl once worked with a construction company in Aiken. Then he was moved to Salem, where his company was involved with Duke Power's mammoth Oconee nuclear project. The Blantons loved the little mountain town, bought property and planned to retire there.

Carl's company sent them back to Aiken for 21 years, and while there they began a clogging supply business. Several years before Carl retired, Patsy moved to Salem, bringing the supply business with her; Carl came on weekends.

About three years ago, the Southland Shoe Co. of Ware Shoals discontinued its clogging division and the Blantons bought the operation, moving it to Salem.

Except for the longer-wearing outsole of manmade materials, Blanton shoes are all leather and handmade. The workers begin by cutting the three-piece vamp or top from soft, pliable cowhides. The hand-held shoes then are moved from machine to machine until the completed shoes are fitted with laces and boxed under the Carl's Clogging Supplies label.

One of the distinctions of the Blanton shoe is the inside heel pocket sewn to cover the center back seam. This extra piece - Carl's design - makes the shoe more comfortable and reinforces the back.

Another difference is the inserting of the lacing eyelets from the underside, which gives the shoe a dressier look. This also reinforces the leather so the laces won't pull through during the hard, bouncing wear the shoes endure.

All their shoes are sold directly to customers. The Blantons advertise their catalog in clogging magazines, and about half their business is mail-order. They also attend clogging competitions, displaying their wares with those of other vendors. Sometimes, at the invitation of an instructor, they will visit a dance studio and sell directly to the students onsite. Occasionally a local customer will come to the plant to buy shoes.

Both Carl and Patsy are serious cloggers, dancing with the Up Country Traditions at the Neville Community Center in Walhalla. They frequently compete - wearing, of course, clogging shoes made in Salem, SC, USA.

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