John A. Zern & Sons celebrates 70th anniversary

By on May 23, 2018


Garrett Kirtley (right) and Tom Zern welcome the community to the 70th anniversary celebration of John A. Zern & Sons, on Saturday, May 26. (Photo by Rochelle Shenk)

Zern’s Beverages will host a 70th anniversary celebration for the community from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday May 26 at its facility, 202 S. Charlotte St., Manheim.

Second generation owner Tom Zern said the celebration will include giveaways, door prizes including T-shirts and an insulated tote featuring the company’s new logo, samples, beef brisket sandwiches and a live remote from WIOV-FM (10 a.m. to noon).

“We want to celebrate with the community,” he said.

John A Zern & Sons was established as John A. Zern Beverage Distributor in 1948 when John and Rita Zern (Tom’s parents) moved to Manheim from Patton. Tom Zern said this makes the business the second-oldest beverage distributor in the county. Serena A. Kirchner Inc., which was established in 1833 in Lancaster, is the oldest.

The Zern business operated out of a rented two-car garage at 40 S. Fulton St. In July 1950, John and Rita relocated the business to 164 S. Hazel St. In 1978, the business was moved to its current location, which was built in 1925 to house H.H. Martin Hardware.

When the business moved to the Martin building, sons Tom and Joe became partners in the operation and the name was changed to John A. Zern & Sons Beverage Distributor. Tom and Joe took over complete ownership in 1995 and a one-story addition was added to the building. The original hardwood floors remain in a portion of the nearly 6,000-square-foot facility, and Tom said they often draw comments from customers.

“There’s a bit of a creak when you walk in certain spots. It really lends a lot of character to our building,” he said.

Joe retired in 2017, and Garrett Kirtley, who joined the company six years ago, became a partner in the business.

“It’s great being part of a small town company that’s family-owned and community driven,” he said.

In 2004, Zern’s commissioned local mural painter Wayne Fettro to create a mural on the side of the building nearest West Stiegel Street. The mural encapsulated the history of the business, which celebrated its 55th anniversary the prior year. It depicts John Zern with Tom and Joe, along with three trucks that were used in the business: a ‘56 Ford, ‘52 Dodge, and ‘58 panel truck. A ‘60s era photo of the business, as well as photos of the three family members, were used to create the mural.

The exterior of the beverage company will get a bit of a new look for the 70th anniversary; signage featuring the new logo will be installed on the Charlotte Street and Stiegel Street sides of the building. There have also been some interior changes in the past year or two, including a new 10-door reach-in refrigerated cooler to complement the six-door unit near the front of the facility, new shelving units nearby, and new flooring in a portion of the retail area.

Zern’s Beverage Cold Beverage area. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Customers also see a wider variety of beverages such malt coolers, hard lemonades and craft brews and hard ciders including many from local producers such as Lancaster County Cider and Lancaster Brewing Company. There’s also ice, sodas, bottled water, home tapping systems and supplies.

Zern said the beverage company sells beer by the case, six-pack and four-pack as well as NA (non-alcoholic or near) beer.

“People are looking to try different types of beer and six- and four-packs are nice for that. Often what you see from the craft breweries are some interesting flavors as well as some eye-catching artwork on the bottle or carton,” Tom Zern explained, “In the summer, people also look for shandys. We’ve also started seeing some craft breweries like Not Your Father’s Root Beer and Mike’s producing spiked sparkling water.”

Zern’s has also seen an uptick in its weddings and special events business via beverage setups. Zern said those customers as well as customers for beverage sales now come from surrounding areas such as Mount Joy, Elizabethtown, and toward Lititz.

He attributes the longevity of the business to several key factors: a willingness to change with the times and creating a nice shopping atmosphere, having a dedicated staff and giving back to the community.

“It starts with having the right people; people who want to learn about the business,” he said. “It helps them assist customers as they make purchase decisions.”

In this 2004 photo, (left to right) Joe, John and Tom Zern stand in front the mural painted by Wayne Fettro on the wall of their beverage distribution business at 202 S. Queen St. (Photo by Rochelle Shenk)

As for giving back to the community, Zern’s supports local sports teams, events such as the post prom, and the upcoming Manheim Rock-N-Glow 5K and organizations such as Wounded Warriors.

“I learned from my dad to be an active part of the community. He said, ‘The more you give, the more you get back’,” Zern said.

Kelly Lauver, Manheim Chamber administrative coordinator, can attest to Zern’s Beverage community spirit.

“He is so very generous to the chamber,” she said.

For more information about Zern’s Beverage, visit

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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