Editor’s note: Throughout the current pandemic, small Alabama retailers and other businesses have limited operations to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order to keep Alabamians employed. Their primary concern continues to be protecting the health of customers, employees and themselves. Smaller businesses can often offer needed products and services without having physical contact with customers or employees. This is the story of one such business.
On March 23, Rusty Richardson, owner of Bernard’s Store for Men on the square in downtown Jasper, locked the doors to his 70-year-old store. The store specializes in casual and tailored clothing for men.
“The numbers (of confirmed coronavirus disease cases) in Jefferson County were rising,” said the business owner 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.
While his physical store is closed to the public, “we’re operating as much as possible with the doors locked,” Richardson said.
That means three employees at the most inside the store to issue gift certificates and fulfill orders – Richardson, his wife, Elizabeth, and associate Nate Shoff. One or more of those three are inside the store three hours a day, but are available by cellphone at other times if needed. “If someone has an immediate need, we can follow through and take care of that for them,” Richardson told the Daily Mountain Eagle in a March 28 story. The store employs six people, who all worked at its two joined buildings prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. All six remain employed. Those not fulfilling orders are working on inventory, payroll and other tasks that don’t require interaction with the public and can be carried out 6 feet away from others.
“We’re answering the phone, taking orders for gift certificates, shipping birthday gifts and we’ve done several curbside pickups,” Richardson said. “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 said in a telephone interview with the Alabama Retail Association.
He talked about those loyal customers with his hometown newspaper.
“Some people have ordered gift certificates,” he said. “They said, ‘Rusty, we don’t need anything right now, but we want to help y’all out.’ I can’t be thankful enough for the reaction a lot of people have shown for the store.”
Bernard’s Store for Men and Bernard’s Tailored Clothing & Furnishings was established in 1949. The main building housing 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.
Richardson 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, Richardson graduated from UAB with a degree in marketing and was promoted to store manager. Weinstein died in July 1980. Eight years later, in 1988, Richardson 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,” Richardson said.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Retailer website.