By T. Scott Boatright
Bertha Albritton founded a downtown Ruston thrift shop and operated it for 40 years before it closed in 2009.
On Tuesday, Albritton celebrated her 102nd birthday with family and friends during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Bertha’s Thrift Shop located at 107 Pelican Blvd. in Ruston.
And Albritton was more than thrilled to participate in the celebration. “Don’t you know I’m a legend?” she exclaimed at one point, setting off an explosion of laughter around her.
Albritton’s granddaughter Russender Powell, who grew up in Ruston but currently lives in Texas, grew up being a part of the old Bertha’s Thrift Shop in downtown Ruston. Now she’s realized a dream by reopening the shop that still retains the name of her grandmother.
The new location — Bertha’s Upscale Thrift Shop — actually opened on Feb. 10 but held the ribbon cutting on Tuesday in conjunction with Albritton’s birthday.
“I’ve been gone for 21 years, but my formative years were here,” Powell said.
Powell’s sister April McNeal and their mother, Brenda McNeal, run the new shop for Powell now after moving from Texas to handle day-to-day operations in Ruston.
Albritton opened the downtown location of Bertha’s in 1978 at the age of 59.
“She was almost a pioneer — a trendsetter for sure,” Powell said. “Definitely a groundbreaker and operated it for 40 years until 2009 and had reached her 90th birthday. Her significant other passed away and he was her transporter and just got to where she couldn’t operate the store anymore. She hadn’t driven for years at that point.”
But eventually, Powell started to think about creating a new Bertha’s Thrift Shop.
“I spent so much time there — I grew up there,” Powell said. “It was just so much to play dress-up in the clothes. She didn’t pay us, so playing dress-up was our pay. And just watching her interactions with the community and all the local students, it was so much fun. Just hearing the stories and those connections — I still remember those things from my childhood. So being able to rebuild those moments is something awesome. There was nothing like her shop here, and I just told myself ‘There’s a void I need to fill.”
“Her personality is contagious,” Powell said of her grandmother Bertha. “She still remembers all of her old customers — names, faces, everything.
“This is family. This is community,” Ruston mayor Ronny Walker said before the ribbon cutting. “This is what it’s all about, and we thank you and appreciate what y’all have done over the years and what you’re doing now. This is just a great example of what we’d like to see continuing to happen in Ruston.”
Powell admitted to those attending the ribbon cutting that she asked for some advice from her grandmother before deciding to open the store.
“Opening Bertha’s Thrift is having to fill some pretty big shoes,” Powell said. “So I called and said, ‘What did you do? Help me with this situation.’ And she is still in the know and still has some sprinkles of wisdom.”
At that point Albritton jumped in to explain her advice to Powell without missing a beat.
“Stay with it until you get it,” Albritton said as the crowd again erupted into laughter. “Don’t give up. … Keep on cracking.”
Powell called reopening Bertha’s a privilege.
“She was always working,” Powell said. “I was trying to hide in the shoe department trying to avoid work but she would find me and pull me out. It was such a great experience. That was planted in my heart a long time ago, and it really came into fruition four years ago when I wrote the business plan to bring this back.
“And with everything going on, I thought, ‘Why not?’ She’s still here and that’s a blessing, so I decided to do it. And I’m so happy she’s here to celebrate with us. The city has been so supportive. It’s been almost overwhelming at times.”