On March 23, Rusty Richardson, owner of Bernard’s Store for Men on the square in downtown Jasper, locked the doors to the public. The 71-year-old store specializes in casual and tailored clothing for men.
“The numbers (of confirmed coronavirus disease cases) in Jefferson County were rising,” said the owner of the business in nearby Walker County. “I had a gut feeling that we ought to be closed.” He made the decision to stop allowing customers inside his store before the state required it March 28 for a host of businesses statewide.
While his physical store was closed to the public from March 23 until May 1, “we were operating as much as possible with the doors locked.”
That meant three employees at the most inside the store to issue gift certificates and fulfill orders – Rusty, his wife Elizabeth, and associate Nate Shoff. One or more of those three were inside the store three hours a day but were available by cell phone at other times if needed. The store employs six people, who all worked at its two buildings prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. All six remained employed throughout and now are back working in the store’s two buildings. While the doors were closed, Glenda Odom, Macie Barrett and Hannah Alexander worked on inventory, payroll and other tasks that didn’t require interaction with the public and could be carried out six feet away from others.
“We’re answering the phone, taking orders for gift certificates, shipping birthday gifts and doing curbside pickups,” Rusty said at the time. “We are fortunate, Jasper is a close-knit community. We really care about each other.
“We have loyal friends and customers, who have shopped with us for generation after generation,” he continued. “I can’t be thankful enough for the reaction people have shown for the store.”
Once the store reopened its doors, it was able to add to that loyal customer base from both the community and elsewhere in the state. “People will shop and even travel for a good product when they know they can get the customer service that they want,” Rusty said in an interview six months after the pandemic began. His strategy for growing the business is simple: “Really spoil people and hope they’ll come back.”
With rescheduled weddings and other events plus the return of football, “business has bounced back for sure,” both casual and dressy, he added. “And I’m optimistic that it will continue to get better.”
Even with the constraints of the pandemic and a mandated 50% occupancy, the readers of Alabama Magazine this summer chose Bernard’s Store for Men as the “Best Men’s Boutique in Alabama,” one of 40 state entities recognized in various categories as being the “Best in Bama.”
By mid-November, Bernard’s hoped to launch an e-commerce site as well to continue to better serve its local customers, many of whom depend on its delivery services, and to gain new customers outside Jasper and Alabama. The development of an e-commerce site already had been “on the back burner,” Rusty said. “The pandemic pushed me, and the young folks encouraged me to go forward with it.”
A History of Customer Service
Bernard’s Store for Men and Bernard’s Tailored Clothing & Furnishings was established in 1949. The business turned 70 years old in 2019. The main building for Bernard’s Store for Men was built in 1895. The tailoring store’s building was built in 1905. Bernard Weinstein bought that building from the Green family in 1949. Before that, the building housed R. Green General Mercantile.
Rusty began working for Bernard’s in 1974 as a 16-year-old high school student and continued working there through his college years. In May 1980, after graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in marketing, he was promoted to store manager. Bernard died suddenly in July 1980. Eight years later in 1988, Rusty bought the store where he had worked since he was a teenager.
“We are fortunate to be able to carry the tradition Bernard Weinstein started; customer service to the nth degree,” said Rusty.
Story by Nancy King Dennis
Photos Provided by Bernard’s Store for Men