If you are ever at the intersection of Harry Street and East Second Avenue (perhaps on your way to the Great American Pub for an “adult beverage”) you probably have seen a white building across the street from John Brothers with large open garage doors. Peering in you will notice a bewildering variety of beer stacked in cases from floor to ceiling in a seemly random fashion. You may also observe cars with open trunks and cases of beer being placed into these open trunks. What you may not know is that the family operating this beer distribution center is celebrating 73 years in business this year (2018).
That’s right “A. Piermani and Son” has been in Conshohocken selling any and all brands of beer, ale, and soft drinks for 73 years along with providing its customers all manner of “munchie” food (Potato Chips, Pretzels, etc.). Combined with the 100 years that John Brothers has been in business (which was the subject of a previous Conshohocken Historical Society Story) this means that within a few feet on East Second Avenue there is a combined 173 years of Conshohocken business represented. Wow!!! If you want to be in business for a long time East Second Avenue seems to be the place to be!!!
Much of the information in this article was obtained from my interview of Alexander Augustus Piermani (a.k.a Alex II) the 90 years young son of the business’s founder. Alex II’s dad (whose name was also Alex…a.k.a. Alex I) founded the business in 1945 at 200 West Sixth Avenue. Sometime in the first two months of 1947 the business moved about ½ block away to 619 Maple Street. In early 1949 the business moved for a third and final time to its current location at East Second Avenue. In a curious “twist of fate” Alex I bought the East Second Avenue building from one of the John Brothers (who originally constructed the building) after the John Brothers business moved across East Second Avenue to their current location. For a number of years afterward Piermans continued to sell gas from gas pumps originally constructed by John Brothers.
The below five A. Piermani and Son advertisements chronical Piermanis start on West Sixth Avenue in 1945 until their move to East Second Avenue in 1949.
Both above advertisements are from the Conshohocken Recorder of February 21, 1947. The new business address is 619 Maple Street. Note being “KISTED” for a nickel.
During my interview with Alex II (who started working in his father’s business right out of high school) I asked him what were some of the changes he has seen over the years in the beer distribution business. Among his reflections were the following:
- When the business started there where only the big breweries such as Valley Forge, Schmidt, Yuengling, Esslinger, Sunshine Brewery, Schlitz, Rolling Rock, Budweiser, and Pabts. Today with the rise of microbrewers there are an incredible number of beers available. Alex II stopped counting at 800 brands. As an example in the middle of the interview he asked me my name….and then said…”We have a new beer. Let’s call it the Mike P from Conshohocken beer”.
- Piermanis used to own a fairly large truck which picked up large quantities of beer from the breweries. This meant driving to Norristown (where Schmidt was brewed) or Pottsville (where Yeungling was and still is brewed). Today all of the beer (and soft drinks) are delivered to Piermanis’ storefront in Conshohocken.
- Piermanis used to run a home delivery service. (I remember my Father taking advantage of this service). This led to some interesting situations where the only folks at home were teenagers and therefore no beer was delivered!!! Today everyone picks up their beer at the storefront.
- When the business first started, and for many years afterwords it was a cash only business. I remember buying beer at Peirmanis when you needed cash and Alex I was behind the counter with a non-electric “manual” cash register. I.E. you had to manually turn a crank on the side of the register to complete a transaction. Today a large part of the business is transacted using some sort of credit facility.
While performing further research on this story I soon discovered some Piermani advertisements in the Conshohocken Recorder which I suspect were the brainchild of Alex I. These advertisements were in the form of advertisement campaigns and allowed Piermani to stand out a bit from the competition. In that respect I think Alex I was probably a little ahead of his time. The first campaign was a series of cartoons titled “Wise Quacks by Piermani’s” which generally had a couple of ducks in an amusing situation that always finished with a commercial for Piermanis. An example from 1949 is below.
In the early 1950s, another campaign was launched in the Conshohocken Recorder under the title “Perce Strings (which was a play on words for “Purse Strings”) by Piermani”. Below is an example from January 27, 1950.
Yet another advertising campaign called “In a Friendly Spirit” was launched in 1953 with the man himself, Alex I, offering friendly advice and support to anyone (e.g. President Truman, Abraham Lincoln) on any subject (e.g. April Fools traditions, Helping your neighbor) while always making sure that you quench your thirst with products from Piermani’s. Below is an example.
Not to say that the beer distribution business was always smooth. When Alex I started the business in 1945 it was really as a second job. His primary full time job was at Lee Tires Manufacturing Company. (The building still stands at North Lane and East Hector Street but has long since been converted to offices). To make matters even more complicated on many days, because of World War II rationing, the store’s entire inventory was sold out by noon. After World War II, Alex II was stationed in Europe which obviously meant he could not distribute beer in Conshohocken. However his wife and his wife’s sister held down the fort during Alex II’s absence which allowed the business to survive.
Piermani’s current building has also undergone changes throughout the years. Alex II’s son Dave remembers when there was a kitchen in the back of the building and his mom and others would make lunch before sending them off to other jobs in one of the many factories that lined the Schuylkill River in Conshohocken. At times parts of this building were rented to other businesses. Below is a picture from 1961 which shows how the building was once divided.
So if you are ever in the neighborhood of East Second Avenue and Harry Streets stop by and congratulate the Piermani’s 2nd and 3rd generations. The current crew consists of Alex II (a.k.a. Alex the young) and his son Dave. A Piermani and Son is a business that has thrived for 73 years in the small tight knit community of Conshohocken. That certainly is a lot of beer over the dam!!!!
Michael Poniatowicz – Conshohocken Historical Society – June 2, 2018