'Relationships matter'

Bernard's celebrates 70th anniversary

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If you visit Bernard's in downtown Jasper, you'll be greeted with a smile and leave as a member of the family. It's been that tradition and dedication to customer satisfaction that has stood the test of time for 70 years.
 
Now-owner Rusty Richardson said an anniversary celebration will be held at the clothing store on 19th Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday where generations of customers and friends will gather to swap stories and enjoy refreshments.  
 
"We're here because of the people of Jasper and Walker County and the surrounding areas," Richardson told the Daily Mountain Eagle on Tuesday. "We have had such loyal friends and customers over the years, and that's why we're still here."
 
Richardson shared the rich history of Bernard's and all that paved the way for the men's clothing store.
 
The once-mercantile store location was purchased in 1949 by Bernard Weinstein, and Bernard's Store for Men was born. Since then, it's been a destination for men to purchase the perfectly fitted suit and perhaps a pair of oxfords to match.
 
Richardson shared a photograph of Weinstein decades ago inside Bernard's. It showed a slender man in a crisp, short sleeve, white dress shirt and dark pants — with a matching tie tucked in. A tape measure was wrapped around his neck as he carried a pen, his reading glasses, and an invoice pad. 
 
He was ready to serve a customer.
 
"Bernard believed in customer service. He believed in good, quality lines and would stand behind those lines. If there was a problem, it really wasn't a problem, because he was going to take care of it," Richardson said.
 
In 1974, Rusty, the son of Burt and Ruby Richardson, began working at Bernard's when he was 16 years old. The Walker High School junior was groomed with a strong work ethic that would still be evident 45 years later.
 
Weinstein suddenly passed away in July 1980. The business was then sold to Charles "Chuck" Hockenberry and later purchased by Richardson and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1988.
 
"I look back on it and think, 'How could this be?' I was just a country kid from out in the sticks, and God had a plan for me to be in downtown Jasper," Richardson said. 
 
The success of Bernard's continued and was even expanded to accommodate more merchandise.
 
There were some hard times, however, especially after the horror of Sept. 11, 2001.  
 
"The United States was in shock. After that year, our business dropped a bundle, but then we came back. Then the downturn of the economy in '08 and '09 ... and there were empty buildings everywhere," Richardson said. "We had a real time making it. If it hadn't been for loyal friends and customers that we've had over the years, we still wouldn't be here."
 
Much at Bernard's remains the same as it was in 1949. An aged, wooden ladder displayed on one of the walls is from the original store operations when employees needed a ladder to reach the dozens of hats on display. 
 
Other nostalgic items line the walls and floors or Bernard's. There are even some mirrors from Weinstein's home to help customers decide if their suit is the perfect fit.
 
Bernard's also still offers tailoring and local delivery, just as it did in 1949.
 
In addition to traditional suits, the store now offers items for women, activewear and accessories.
 
Styles have come and gone as clothing has circulated through the store, but the one thing that has never changed is the impeccable character and customer care that Weinstein fostered within the building's walls.
 
"He taught me about loving people, about being genuine, about being concerned about people and what they were going through in their lives. He was always an encourager, so I've always tried to be an encourager," Richardson said in tears. "People trust us, and they come in to dress their loved one that just died or dress all their family for a big wedding coming up, special occasions, parties and anniversaries. We've been so fortunate to be able to be a part of all that."
 
Simply put, Richardson said, "Those relationships matter." 
 
"We want people to come in and get a cup of coffee, a bottle of water or a Coke in the bottle and hang out and eat parched peanuts with us," he said. "That's what I feel like Bernard's is about, coming in and making yourself at home."