'Gansett Wall Of Fame: Tom Johnson

My great 'Gansett year. "They want shots with their beers." he said. "No shots, just Narragansett Beer - that's what I'm promoting. Get the Seagram's...

My great 'Gansett year. "They want shots with their beers." he said. "No shots, just Narragansett Beer - that's what I'm promoting. Get the Seagram's guy to buy them shots," I said. "He's nowhere around," came the reply. "Tough," I said. "Give everyone another 'Gansett on me." It was the fall of 1957. I was a mission man for the Narragansett brewery, the largest seller of beer and beer products in New England. The brewery sponsored all the Red Sox games and had Irene Hennessey and Curt Gowdy as its public face. "Hi Neighbor, have a 'Gansett," was the slogan. It appeared on car bumpers, on beer glasses and on signs in front of liquor stores and bars throughout the region. I drove a panel truck throughout the region that had a huge plastic mockup of a Giant Imperial Quart (39.37 oz.) on its roof. I got high fives and thumbs up from everyone on the road and in the cities and towns of the region. It was fun. I was in training to be a route salesman for assignment somewhere in New England. The brewery hired me right out of college because I owned a clean, ironed dress shirt, a suit and tie, a pork pie soft hat and I could tell a good story. My Irish tenor voice also helped. The pay was $75 per week and travel money, plus $125 per week to buy people Narragansett beer in bars. Did you hear the one about - no nevermind - later... The bar was in northern New England, near the Connecticut lakes region of New Hampshire. About six of us from the brewery landed there one Monday morning. We had already identified the big draft beer outlets patronized by foresters, WWII veterans and ethnic clubs, mostly Polish and French-Canadian. Most did not feature the Narragansett products, but featured national brands instead. Our job was to promote Narragansett products in bars and package stores. Our strategy was simple. In twos, we would wander into each targeted bar around noon, and order Narragansett beer. When we were offered another brand, we declined and walked out. We would do this on days for end. On other days, we'd go to big Narragansett customers and buy drinks all afternoon and evening. We'd sing harmony, tell stories, watch the Sox on TV (if the bar had TV - some had just radio) and work the town. We spent a lot of money buying free drinks for patrons. No whiskey, despite the many pleas for shots and beers, just our product. We would strategize with the local Narragansett salesman at the end of our week outlining where we had been and which bars had no 'Gansett. We would take a week or two off, using our in and out strategies in other locations, in Maine, Vermont, and in lower Connecticut. At the end of each week, we'd lay out our collective experiences with the local Narragansett distributor and schedule a return trip several weeks hence. This particular Northwood's Bar was festfooned with signs from Budweiser, Schlitz, Pabst, and Ballantine Ale. No Narragansett signs were visible. However, when we returned with signs and point of sale material several weeks later, the bar now stocked Narragansett beer and ale. We knew that because the route salesman had briefed us on which bars now stocked our products for the first time. The salesman, after our week long visitation asking for Narragansett and walking out when none was available, had convinced the bar owner that Narragansett was pulling away from the national beers as a big draw, and we should be stocked. Most bought only five introductory cases. Our next strategy was to wander in to these bars in twos and ask for Narragansett. "We have it," we were told, "but it's in the cellar." "Put it in the cooler," we suggested, "and we'll be back later." We would leave and return later in the afternoon or in the evening. With about four or five rounds of free Narragansett distributed to very, very happy patrons, the bar would exhaust its Narragansett stock. We'd register disappointment and leave to begin a new mission in another bar.We'd encourage the barkeep to bring in more stock and we'd be back in a week or so. Naturally, over several months, we managed to convert many of the national brand loyalists to drinking our own famous aged New England lager beer, "Narragansett." In the meantime, sales grew enormously in these small villages and Northern cities. So much so, that the brewery would initiate a sales "contest" for these regional distributors and bar owners. The more Narragansett beer sold to these bars, the greater the prize; American Tourister luggage, Red Sox tickets, a trip to the brewery or the grand prize, a vacation in Bermuda. Needless to say, the northern New England sales volume of Narragansett beer and beer products soared during the winter of 1957-58. Some salesman, I understood, were able to work out hundreds of cases to help them get into the Bermuda prize category. The bar owners also could earn prizes. I'm not sure what happened then. I was assigned to Fairfield County in lower Connecticut, fighting against Piels beer, Rheingold beer, Schaeffer beer, Rupert Knickerbocker beer (those little knicks) and a spate of ales. I just lost track of northern New England beer sales. I'll bet, however, that some folks are still sitting in some northern bars, awaiting in vain a return of the big spenders with the bottomless pockets whose mission to develop Narragansett loyalty was accomplished many decades ago. Hi Neighbor, have another 'Gansett! Tom Preston Johnson Ed. D. Harwich Port, MA Thanks, Tom for sharing your story. It's all too familar to many of us around here. We encourage anyone to submit stories of folks whom you feel should be inducted into the 'GANSETT WALL OF FAME here.


This brings back my childhood memories. My grandfather, Samuel H. Wintman of Providence, RI was the leading New England distributor of Narragansett Beer. I grew up with Narragansett Beer glasses in my house. I remember getting tix to the Bosox games through the brewery in Cranston, RI.

Thanks for the memories.

Barb Morris

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