Tom Kershaw Celebrates 55 years as Owner of Hampshire House

Tom Kershaw marked 55 years of ownership of a true Boston institution, the Hampshire House on Monday, June 10, with an invitation-only luncheon that brought together familiar faces from throughout his remarkable career.

“It’ll be a fun to was to celebrate,” said Kershaw from his office at the Hampshire House, located at 84 Beacon St., several weeks ahead of the event. “It will be luncheon featuring a lot of staff running the business now and staff from the past, many of whom have gone on to run their own businesses.”

Tom Kershaw is seen on the steps of the Hampshire House on Monday,
June 10 – the 55th anniversary of him taking ownership of the business.

Kershaw turned 85 last Dec. 1 and marked that occasion with a gala celebration at the Hampshire House, so he felt it would only be only fitting to mark his 55th anniversary in business there in similar fashion.

“It’s just a chance to come together, and to celebrate together, another milestone,” he said. “I’ve been involved in the Beacon Hill community all my business life, and I’m still involved in community all my business life that I thought it would be fun to celebrate. We celebrated our 50th [anniversary in business] in a big way. We celebrated my 85th birthday in a big way, and we figured we mind as well celebrate 55 years in business in a big way, too.”

Kershaw earned a bachelor’s in engineering from Swarthmore (Pa.) College before attending Harvard Business School, where he graduated from at age 23 with a master’s in business administration.

In 1969, Kershaw, age 30, together with his then-business partner, Jack Vesey, assumed ownership of the Hampshire House, along with its existing cocktail lounge, dining room, function room and 12 hotel rooms, on June 10, 1969.

The Hampshire House mansion was originally built by architect Ogden Codman in 1910 as a family home for fellow Brahmins Bayard and Ruth Thayer. The Georgian revival townhouse was designed with Italian marble, carved oak paneling, crystal chandeliers and tall Palladian windows overlooking the Public Garden. In 1942, the owner of the Lincolnshire Hotel on Charles Street leased the property and converted it into a small hotel to accommodate workers from the Charlestown Navy Yard. The building later served as living quarters for nurses from Massachusetts General Hospital.

Kershaw and Vesey immediately began looking for ways to improve the business. They had a bar custom-built in England, which was shipped back to the U.S. and installed in its current location in the basement of the Hampshire House. The Bull & Finch Pub opened on Dec. 1, 1969 – Kershaw’s 31st birthday.

(In 1972, Kershaw and Vesey opened The Landing on Marblehead Harbor, and Kershaw subsequently traded his interest in The Landing with Vesey for his interest in the Hampshire House.)

In 1981, the creative team behind the TV series “Taxi,” which included director and producer Jim Burrows, whose father, Abe Burrows, had been a scriptwriter for “Duffy’s Tavern,” a situation comedy set in a neighborhood bar and broadcast on American radio from 1941 to 1951, was looking for a new project.

Through a stroke of luck, the team discovered the Bull & Finch, which became the inspiration for their next sitcom project, ‘Cheers.’

Upon preming on NBC on Sept. 20, 1982, ‘Cheers’ got off to a rocky start ratings-wise until then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil made a cameo in an episode the following February.

“Everyone tuned in…and it made the news both locally and nationally,” Kershaw recalled.

On a very lucrative sidenote, Kershaw traveled in August of 1983 to Hollywood to attend a filming of an episode of the series,  where he negotiated the rights to sell “Cheers” T-shirts from behind the bar at the Bull & Finch. The merchandising business expanded to boutiques, stores, and kiosks throughout the city, and at one time, Kershaw even held the national rights to sell ‘Cheers’ merchandise. (“Cheers” merchandise is still available for sale at the Hampshire House gift shop.)

After earning 28 Primetime Emmy Awards from a record of 117 nominations, the 275th and final episode of “Cheers” aired on May 20, 1993, and to mark the occasion, Jay Leno brought “The Tonight Show” to the Bull & Finch for only the third remote filming in its history.

Between the success of both the Hampshire House and the “Cheers’” TV series, Kershaw was also able to extend his reach as he took on other philanthropic endeavors.

He helped reimagine the erstwhile Charles Street Merchants Association as the Beacon Hill Business Association. (Kershaw opted for the more-inclusive group name, since his business wasn’t located on Charles Street.)

In 1982, then-Mayor Kevin White asked Kershaw to undertake a study of Charles Street, which informed White’s decision to repave the street. When Charles Street reopened two days later, the direction of traffic had been reversed, and as the well-worn expression now goes: ‘Thomas Kershaw turned traffic around on Charles Street.’

Kershaw was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Beacon Hill Business Association and remains Chairman Emeritus of the organization.

Since 1995, Kershaw has also sponsored the annual ‘Garlands and Greens’ event at the Hampshire House to help the Beacon Hill Civic Association raise the money needed to decorate the neighborhood’s more than 1,100 gaslamp posts for the holiday season. He now hosts a pancake breakfast at Hampshire House for those who help “undecorate” the lampposts as well.  Kershaw served on the BHCA board of directors for one term and has supported the group in countless ways over the years.

In 2003, the group awarded its annual Beacon Award to Kershaw, along with two other individuals, in honor of their “sustained and significant contributions to the neighborhood.”

Kershaw also originally conceived the idea for the Frog Pond  Skating Rink on the Boston Common and would run the facility for its first 14 years.

On a skiing trip to Aspen, Colo., circa 1993, Kershaw found an outdoor skating rink there and was inspired to bring the concept back to Boston. He successfully pitched the idea to then-Mayor Thomas Menino as a year-round facility, and using capital funds, the city opened the Frog Pond Skating Rink on the Boston Common in January of 1997. Besides skating in the winter, the facility also serves as  a spray pool in the summer and a reflecting pool in the spring and fall. At Kershaw’s suggestion, the Boston Common Frog Pond Carousel also opened nearby on the Common.

“It’s nice to be in a position to do that,” said Kershaw reflecting on his contributions to the neighborhood. “I’m glad that the “Cheers’ opportunity came along so I was able to support the activities of Beacon Hill.”

Kershaw even launched  his own charity, Cheers for Children.

Cheers for Children began as Globe Santa in 1980, after two Bull & Finch bartenders read a Boston Globe story about two underprivileged  boys trying to raise money to purchase holiday gifts for their needy siblings. This inspired the bartenders to hold an auction at the Bull & Finch, which raised $570 for the newspaper’s gift fund for needy children. Cheers for Children has since gone on to raise money to purchase children’s gifts, as well as donate to numerous local charities that support children.

Kershaw has also served on numerous organizations representing the interests of restaurant and tourism locally and nationally, including the Massachusetts Restaurant Association; National Restaurant Association, Travel Industry Association of America, United States Travel and Tourism Administration, and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau/Meet Boston, among other groups.

“I spent most of my professional life in the hospitality business working with people in the community to increase the number of visitors coming to the area.” said Kershaw. “I got outside the four walls  [of the Hampshire House] and tried to develop the industry.”

Markus Ripperger, president, CEO, and corporate chef of the Hampshire House Hospitality Group, has worked for Kershaw for 31 years now and calls him a “great leader.”

“It’s been great to create not just a business in the community, but we are the community,” Ripperger said of the Hampshire House’s role on Beacon Hill.

Ripperger also noted Kershaw’s seeming limitless generosity with the city when it comes to his time and resources.

And the City of Boston has in turn embraced Kershaw for his unwavering support over the years.

Ahead of the anniversary luncheon, District 8 City Councilor Sharon Durkan presented him with an Official Resolution on behalf of the Boston City Council in recognition of Kershaw’s 55th anniversary as owner of the Hampshire House.

“I was proud to there to honor Tom Kershaw and the Hampshire House on 55 years of hospitality and service to Beacon Hill,” Councilor Durkan told this reporter after the event. “Through the decades, Tom Kershaw has offered so much to our communities, and there is so much that would not be possible without his leadership. Cheers, Tom and team, and to many more celebrations of your steadfast presence in the neighborhood.”

Since 1988, Kershaw has literally called the Hampshire House his home, residing in a penthouse unit he created from an unused space at the top of the building, which had previously been used as storage.

Rather than attempting to develop and open another restaurant or business there at a time when he already had lines down the block waiting to get into the Bull & Finch,  and “which would’ve required an enormous amount of change within the building from an egress point of view,” Kershaw opted instead to make it his living space, especially since he was already spending most of his waking hours at the Hampshire House and had called the neighborhood home since 1964.

“I’m already in a residential neighborhood and couldn’t push the envelope too far, and that’s when I thought, ‘why don’t you do a penthouse, Tom,” Kershaw told this reporter. “Glad I did, it’s a wonderful place to live, and it keeps me near the business,”

Today, Hampshire House, Cheers, 75 Chestnut, and 75 on Liberty Wharf are Kershaw’s active business interests. (A Cheers Replica Bar at Faneuil Hall Marketplace opened in 1983 and closed in August of 2020 amid the pandemic.)

Looking back now, Kershaw can’t help but marvel at the long and successful run the Hampshire House has enjoyed since he bought the business.

“Well, there are damn few places that have been in the same place with the same owner for 55 years,” said Kershaw. “You think about Boston, and all of the old established places are long gone. Everything seems to change whereas we’ve been able to continue operating here.”

Above all else, Kershaw is quick to point out though, that he owes much of his success in business to the ‘good people’ who’ve chosen to work for him over the years, many of whom have gone onto future successes of their own.

“People are the key to this or any business,” said Kershaw, “and if you can choose good  people, motivate and direct them, and emerge as a successful manager or operator, then they can go on to do their own thing.”

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