Luthersville, GA - When Norris Bertram told neighbors he planned to open a shoe store next to his ‘appliance store' no one was too surprised. Bertram had long ago earned a reputation as an entrepreneurial eccentric in this middle Georgia town. For more than thirty years Bertram sold working and non-working appliances off the porch of his ramshackle house in the middle of Luthersville.
"He says he's sold ‘em," said longtime Luthersville resident, Mavis Jones. "But I never seen nobody hauling one away."
However, no one ever expected what came next, when a large dump truck rumbled into town, turned into Bertram's yard and dumped 500 cubic feet of old, used shoes into an open space between Bertram's house and neighbor, Dwight Malone. Three more trucks appeared that day and before they were through dumping, Bertram's yard contained a pile of used shoes 60 feet long, 20 feet wide and ten feet high, roughly 12,000 cubic feet of shoes.
"Never seen nothing like it," Malone said. "He said a shoe store. I didn't imagine he meant a shoe mountain."
But shoe mountain he did mean. According to persons who wished to remain anonymous, Bertram's plan was to let people come pick shoes out of the pile at five dollars a pair.
"How you gonna find two of the same size shoes in that mess," Malone said laughing and pointing at the mound of shoes stretching off into the distance. "Norris, he's different. I seen his house before I moved in, so it's not like I didn't know. I don't blame nobody but me for this. But it's more problem than just being unattractive.
Indeed. As soon as the town dogs discovered the pile of shoes the shoes began to vanish.
"Didn't vanish, really," said resident Donald Clough. "They showed back up. In my yard. In his yard. In her yard. In everbody's yard. All over town. In the street, up the street, down the street, you name it. They was shoes there. Unfortunately Norris noticed."
Unfortunate because Norris Bertram has always been a man fast on the draw. Arrested more than a dozen times for discharging a firearm at or near persons, or within the city limits, he's never been convicted.
"Everbody's a little scared of him. He's got this pistol bigger'n his head and he's always happy to use it. He ain't been convicted because ain't no one wants him mad at ‘em. He'd get out eventually." Clough shook his head. "He's never took a shot at me or nothing."
But he's taken plenty of shots at others. "He shot several dogs who were stealing his shoes, and he took a couple of shots at kids, too. The dadgum dogs crawled up under my house and died. I do resent that," said Malone.
For now residents of Luthersville are living with the shoe store. Malone shook his head, "I'm not sure what we can do, really. We ain't got no zoning laws. As long as he don't shoot nobody I guess his store is open."
Open to the air, open to the dogs and open to insults from the rest of the town. The only thing not open, apparently is Bertram's mouth. He refused comment for this story other than "Get off my property or I'll shoot you."