Cheers Boston makes the love for a sitcom big business with a souvenir shop and a smile.

March 15, 2024

While Boston is known for many things, including its role in the Revolutionary War and its sports teams, tourists to the City on a Hill also have to get in a little television nostalgia with a visit to the pub that inspired the 1980s sitcom “Cheers.” And after 28 years of buying merchandise for Cheers Boston’s restaurant, pub and gift shop, Gail Richman is sure all the other employees know her name, just like the famous lyric in the show’s well-known theme song.

“There’s a lot of us that have been here a long time,” notes the veteran buyer for Hampshire House Corp. “We have sales associates that have been here for over 10 years. We have bartenders that have been over 30 years. We’re just one big family.”

Customers can enjoy Richman’s handywork in the two gift shops in the five-story mansion that houses the iconic bar made popular by the sitcom, “Cheers.”

While purchasing is just one part of Richman’s role and Cheers Boston is only one of five restaurants parent company Hampshire House Corp. owns and operates, it’s considered to have the most far-reaching impact due to the show’s popularity.

A storied past

Originally known as the Bull & Finch Pub, it was the inspiration for the show that began in 1982 and dominated television on Thursday nights until it left the air in 1993, according to Richman, who is now known as the director of procurement and distribution logistics/marketing.

Cheers Boston visitors have an array of T-shirts and mugs to choose from.
Photos: Samantha Barracca

With three bars and two gift shops occupying the basement and first floor, the upper floors are reserved for weddings, private events and special functions designed to entertain guests.

“And to this day, we still have lines out the door every day when we open,” Richman notes.

But before its explosive impact on pop culture and before Richman accrued a mile-long list of duties in the company she adores, the five-story Georgian-revival Hampshire House was commissioned in the early 1900s by Bayard and Ruth Thayer on the historic Beacon Hill where generations of guests have “wined, dined, and danced the night away,” according to the parent company’s website.

Remnants of the architectural details are revealed throughout the building with hand-carved wood railings, oak paneled bookshelves, stained glass features, a six-story spiral staircase, crystal chandeliers and marble fireplaces.

A gallery of gifts

Although the majority of guests come to dine in the place that inspired the sitcom, many want to take a piece home with them, which is where Richman comes in.

“They spend their money with the food and beverage first and then come into the gift shop,” she explains. “So, we try to price it right so they can afford souvenirs and bring them back home and complete their whole “Cheers” experience.”

Cheers Boston visitors have an array of T-shirts and mugs to choose from.

While most guests want to experience the trip down the iconic steps under the sign pointing the way to whet one’s whistle in the basement lounge, the 1,200-square-foot gift shop, which Richman refers to as the souvenir gallery, is on the first floor. It’s situated next to the street-level set bar which was built in 2009 to more closely resemble the bar most are familiar with from the show.

Twelve employees run three-man shifts to help customers find the perfect Cheers Boston- emblazoned T-shirts, hats, magnets, keychains, signs, glassware, aprons and a multitude of other merchandise that comprises more than 425 SKUs.

However, the souvenir that outshines every other is far and away the Cheers Boston signature dimple mug — for obvious reasons.

“In the restaurant, you buy a beer and take the mug home, so that is my top souvenir item, the dimple mug,” Richman explains. “And then I would say T-shirts after that. We sell a ton of T-shirts.”

She notes she likes to use local screen printers for their turn-around times and the fact that it minimizes the amount of inventory she has to keep on hand.

Inside the gift shop, T-shirts are sorted by size and displayed in wooden cubes on the “T-shirt wall” while oval fixtures show off the best glassware the store has to offer. Meanwhile, a magnet board boasts smaller mementos before guests are delivered to the cash wrap where guests check out — which is meant to look like a bar.

As a backdrop, cardboard cut-outs of the show’s beloved characters and framed photos highlight the reason most are there — to snag a piece of history from a show many grew up watching and laughing with.

Bobbleheads, bar snacks, keychains and magnets are among more than 425 SKUs.

“People get so excited when they come in,” Richman notes. “We also play the “Cheers” episodes on the TV, so they stop, they listen, they watch it for a little bit. They hear the “Cheers” theme song and they get happy.”

For many, the entire experience is a trip down memory lane, particularly for those in their 50s and 60s from middle America — a trademark of what Richman notes to be their target demographic. “It just brings back old times,” Richman explains.

Because of the show’s lore, Richman says she tries to specialize in items that fit into home bars or man caves, such as bar mats, pub towels, corkscrews, bottle openers and trivia drink napkins — all stamped with the Cheers Boston moniker.

“We only sell Cheers Boston merchandise,” Richman points out. “Cheers is a licensee through Viacom CBS Studios, so we do work closely with them.”

Richman adds the fact that the location is so iconic is what sets them apart from other Boston souvenir shops.

“It’s not something they can go to another location to see,” she notes. “We are the only Cheers Boston souvenir shop.”

When it comes to vendors, Richman taps the likes of Progressive Specialty Glass Company of Connecticut for glassware; Charles Products and Karol Western Corp. in California for souvenir items; Rico Signs; Capsmith Inc. for hats; EMI Sportswear and Landway for upscale apparel; Stone Enterprises for artistic hats; Luba’s Fashions in Florida for apparel; and Neil Enterprises of Chicago for tea towels, fanny packs, stickers and magnets.

Elsewhere in the building, a second shop in the basement known as the “hallway shop” houses similar items.

Fanfare for favorites

No matter which part of the visit a customer deems their favorite, Richman says the key to success is making sure they’re all favorites.

“Just make sure they’re happy from when they walk in the door to when they walk out,” she offers on how to turn a visit into an experience. “Give them quality products, quality food, service that they smile about, and then it’s word of mouth after that.”

While exact numbers are not known today, Richman estimates as many as 750,000 visitors flocked to the landmark annually in its heyday. She adds 2023 was a particularly good year, with tourists typically arriving in April with the kickoff of the Boston Marathon and staying through November to close out cruise-ship and leaf-peeping season.

As for Richman’s personal success, she credits the company she works for and her co-workers as the reasons she’s a lucky lady.

Bobbleheads, bar snacks, keychains and magnets are among more than 425 SKUs.

“They say that it’s not work if you love what you do and I’ve felt this way for 28 years. I love what I do,” she admits. “I work for a great company from the owner to the president and everybody, including the staff all the way to the cleaning crew.”

Among her many talents is sourcing products, no matter how big or small.

But once guests come through the door, that’s where the energy of the entire team takes over and serves up a toast to those who remember the sitcom, “Cheers” fondly.

“We all strive to make everybody happy when they walk in the door,” Richman says. “People are excited and they can feel the energy in the building.”

After all, “Cheers” was all about coming together as friends and sharing experiences in a place where everybody knows your name. That’s something anyone can raise a glass to.