by Laurie Fisher, Associate Publisher, Prescott LIVING
If anyone could have been born to do what they’re doing now, it’s Sheri Shaw. An Arizona native, she was exported to the northeast corner of the country as a child but came back as soon as she could after high school.
Knowing in her bones how to juggle a long list of tasks while ensuring her customers’ needs are met, she parlayed her talents into both the hospitality and health care industries; her love for science threading into a nursing career.
After she and her husband Peter Lowenstein, a sales executive, came up from metro Phoenix to turn their Prescott vacation home into their full-time residence. She decided to retire from nursing and became a business owner, opening a boutique in Bashford Courts, across the street from Courthouse Plaza.
Yet her original love for the bar business was calling to her, and she felt Yavapai County’s booming wine industry demanded a bigger presence in town. A full-fledged concept of a wine bar for downtown sprang to her jet-lagged mind during a trip to Israel, so she sold the boutique and opened the Back Alley Wine Bar in 2019 at 156 S. Montezuma St., behind Van Gogh’s Ear and the Prescott Western Heritage Center.
By then she’d already become a leader among the business owners behind the Prescott Downtown Partnership (PDP) and guided downtown revitalization consultant and Flip This Town author Ron Drake around the historic core; his report led to improvements to the alley between iconic Whiskey Row and the downtown parking garage, where she’d just opened her wine bar.
Since then, she’s been busy with her thriving enterprise as it’s become a hub for aficionados of wines from the Verde Valley and across the world, surviving pandemic closures to become a hub for live music (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and wood-fired pizza (Thursdays).
And she’s on the cusp of opening a cheese shop just across the alley, as her skills and drive keep her at the forefront of the Greater Prescott wine bar scene.
For more about the Back Alley Wine Bar, visit www.backalleywine.com
or call 480.570.5131.
Prescott LIVING: We’re here with Sheri Shaw from Back Alley Wine Bar. Sheri, tell us a little bit about where you were born and raised and your school experiences.
Sheri Shaw: I am actually an Arizona native. I was born in Arizona, but my family moved back East to Pennsylvania when I was about 7. My uncle owned a bar and a restaurant there and my mother ran it. I literally grew up in the bar. I lived upstairs. I started my bar business career when I was 7 years old. Bagging clams and slicing meat and chopping carrots and picking up beer bottles in the parking lot. I was always doing something. Then I was the dishwasher and the bus girl. Then I waited tables and then when I grew up, I bartended. I did pretty much every aspect of it.
Prescott LIVING: You came back to Arizona after high school. What drew you back?
Sheri Shaw: Arizona was just always home. I always missed it and I always wanted to come back. I came back in 1990.
Prescott LIVING: Big change, I assume. I’ve never been to Pennsylvania …
Sheri Shaw: My family had moved away so there was really wasn’t much left for me. I just wanted to be out West. I continued in the bar business until I was about 30 years old. I decided in my mid20s that I wanted what I thought was a “real career,” so I went to nursing school. I was a nurse for 17 years. It just became what I didn’t want to do anymore and I figured I needed to get back to my roots.
Prescott LIVING: Where did you nurse? What part of the country?
Sheri Shaw: Mostly in Scottsdale. I worked in the ER in a Level 1 trauma center and then I flew, I was a flight nurse for a little while, out of Parker and out of Kingman. The Grand Canyon was in my territory. It was very cool, but working trauma takes its toll and I decided it was time to retire. I had been thinking about getting back into the bar business and I realized with all the bars on Whiskey Row we didn’t have a wine bar. The Arizona wine industry has just exploded in the past 15 years and we didn’t really have any good representation of it here. We needed something a little bit different.
Prescott LIVING: Do you use what you learned in the nursing career still today? Do you ever use any of that?
Sheri Shaw: It’s funny. What I learned working in the bar business is actually what benefited me as a nurse so it’s kind of the opposite. When you work in the bar business, or if you’re waiting tables, you learn to do 17 things at once, which comes in handy when you’re an ER nurse, too. I already had that skill set where I could just do a million things all at once and prioritize and triage, if you will.
Prescott LIVING: When did you and your husband first come to Prescott and why?
Sheri Shaw: We had a little vacation home up here. I was sad every Sunday when we had to drive back down to the Valley because I love Prescott. I’m a trail runner and I can run up here year-round without worrying about dying of heatstroke. I love the trails up here. I love the cooler weather. I love the whole vibe of downtown Prescott. My husband was able to work remotely, so in 2011 he said, if you can find a job up here, we’ll move up permanently. Nine days later, I had a job up here. I literally started nine days later and Pete was like, what, really? I’m like, yeah, pack up the house, we’re moving! I nursed up here for a couple of years before I decided that I wanted to get out of it and do this.
Prescott LIVING: Then when did you decide to open the bar?
Sheri Shaw: 2018. I was actually on a trip to Israel and I had really bad jet lag and I was up all night while my husband and my dad slept. The entire idea came to me. I thought that we need a wine bar in Prescott that features Arizona wine and music. I owned The Little Boutique in Prescott at the time; I sold that. This bar was open less than a year later from that trip, from the idea. I started looking at spaces as soon as I got home. I had just eaten at Limoncello’s and I came down and I saw the “for rent” sign and I peeked in. I saw the brick walls, I saw that fire door, and I instantly knew, this is the space. It took a while to make the deal and get it going. My friend, Deb Butitta, who has since passed away, helped me immensely. We got the deal done and she and I sat here and drank Champagne out of Dixie cups and we signed the lease.
Prescott LIVING: What was here before?
Sheri Shaw: It was PK Bootmaker. Paul Krause made custom boots and still does, he was just getting a little too much foot traffic here. For a year, people would pop in and want me to make them boots. Before that, I don’t know. Originally, in front, that was Sam Hill’s Hardware, the original one. This was the warehouse. It was also a stable at one time. They would bring horses and buggies up. I just fell in love instantly with this space.
Prescott LIVING: I can see why. I mean, it’s gorgeous in here. You guys have done a lot of work, but just the bones of the brick are beautiful. When did you open?
Sheri Shaw: We opened in March 2019. We were shut down about two days before our one-year anniversary for COVID, and then we were one of the bars that got shut down the second time, too. 2020, I don’t even count then as being in business, truly.
Prescott LIVING: How long have you been a wine aficionado?
Sheri Shaw: I worked in a small wine store when I was in nursing school and I knew I liked to drink wine, but I knew nothing about it. The owner gave me the book Wine for Dummies. I instantly fell in love with wine because it’s like the perfect marriage of art and science. I’m a creative person, but with my nursing degree I also love science. We started traveling and doing tastings. It’s interesting when you can taste the different terroirs, the characteristics of where the grapes were grown. I also fell in love with the people who are the winemakers and the fact that there’s always a great story behind each bottle of wine and who made it and how they came into winemaking. Oh, and I really love to drink it!
Prescott LIVING: To go back to when you opened this bar, were you nervous about the location or did it always seem like it was just a good opportunity? I knew you fell in love with it when you looked through the window.
Sheri Shaw: I was a little bit nervous, but I stood in the alley on a Saturday afternoon for a couple hours just hanging out and watching foot traffic and there was a lot of it. The parking garage is right there. There’s a back door to the Grand Highland Hotel there. Limoncello’s is here. The Bird Cage Saloon has a door that goes to the alley. That’s literally why I named it the Back Alley Wine Bar, so people could find me. They still did have trouble at first because my address is on Whiskey Row. I just figured I’ll just market the heck out of it and make sure people know where I am.
Prescott LIVING: The alley improvements here, they weren’t completed when you opened the bar?
Sheri Shaw: No, that idea came with the Flip This Town presentation Ron Drake made when he was here in January 2019. Michael Lamar, the city manager, kind of took it and rolled with it and the Prescott Downtown Partnership (PDP) and the Chamber really worked hard to get the PRESCOTT mural. It was paid for through business and private donations. Then the city did the string lights and the archway signs at each end. That was all done by the city, and I am so grateful because it’s made a big difference. The rest kind of got put on hold when COVID hit, so I hope that they’re going to continue.
Prescott LIVING: You’re the past president of the PDP. What other local organizations have you been involved with here in Prescott?
Sheri Shaw: Mostly just the PDP and I am still on the board, and honestly that’s about all I have time for right now. I feel like I don’t really even contribute much anymore. That organization does a lot, as you know. They put on all the events, I call it the white tent season, and the summer concert series, which everyone loves. I’m not as involved anymore as I was, but I try to help out as often as I can.
Prescott LIVING: On the improvements in the alley, how much did they affect your wine bar business and how do you see it growing or changing? Did you notice a big change?
Sheri Shaw: Yeah, people are taking more pictures back there. The mural has been an amazing add, and just being lit up at night has made a huge difference, because it was pretty dark before the string lights were put up. Those were put up not too long after I opened. I was very grateful to the city. It just made a big difference and it just lights it up and it looks like someplace you want to walk down.
Prescott LIVING: It definitely does.
Sheri Shaw: There’s a lot of doors in the alley. The Bird Cage, Jersey’s, The Palace, you’ve got Matt’s. You can get to a lot of us from the alley, and the parking garage is right there, too, so there’s actually a lot of traffic back here now.
Prescott LIVING: Where do you hope the development of downtown Prescott heads in the future and how do you plan to be a part of it?
Sheri Shaw: I would like to see Prescott be a little bit more of a foodie destination. I feel like we have some really great restaurants in this town, but we could use a few more. I would like people to come up here for the food, for the restaurants, for the bars, for the shopping, all of it, while still keeping the Prescott downtown vibe. Keeping the Old West and our history intact.
Prescott LIVING: Do you find that you help other women become business owners in town, being a business owner yourself?
Sheri Shaw: Yeah. I’m big on supporting other businesses, women-owned or not. But especially women-owned, because I feel like we all are in this together. If there’s a lot of great bars on the Row, people come up from Phoenix to see Whiskey Row. People come up to see all the shops and restaurants in Prescott, not just one. I feel like we’re all in it together, and we all together collectively make Prescott what it is. I’m a big supporter of all the other businesses.
Prescott LIVING: Tell me, I know you’re an avid runner and happily married with doggies and all of that. What do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not here at the wine bar?
Sheri Shaw: I’m an avid trail runner. I like to go far out into the mountains, and that is kind of my Zen time, that’s my prayer time. That’s my time away from people. Everyone knows my dogs are my babies and they’re my trail partners. That’s where I love to be. I love to go camping. I like to go climb random mountains, explore new trails and just be outside. I’m kind of a bird nerd, a little bit of a bird watcher. Just love being in the outdoors.
Prescott LIVING: Is there anything else that you want to tell us?
Sheri Shaw: Yes! I’m taking over the space across the alley where the Del Rio Springs Vineyard Tasting Room has been, they’re moving to a bigger space right next door. It’s going to be a little gourmet cheese shop, the Back Alley Cheese Bar. There’ll be gourmet cheese and then little gourmet foodie things. Some spices, some sauces, things like that. In the back there’s a small kitchen so we are going to start doing food for the bar. It’s going to be cheesebased food. Appetizers like brie bakes and bruschetta and just little small cheese-based appetizers. We’re hoping to be open in October, most likely it’ll be by Nov. 1. Del Rio is going into a really beautiful space and we’re going to actually do food for them too, just cheese stuff. We’re going to expand our charcuterie boards. We’re going to have a two-person and a four-person charcuterie board. We’re going to start really small. Maybe we’ll have just a brie bake and maybe some bruschetta. Possibly, I’d like to do some gourmet grilled cheeses. Cheese-based, what goes better with wine than cheese? We’ll put our own touch on the space, but it’s pretty much all set. I have to buy some kitchen equipment, but not big stuff.
Prescott LIVING: That’s exciting! You couldn’t ask for a better pathway.
Sheri Shaw: I know!