February 2024
Changing Faces and Spaces at Hotel St. Michael
Hotel sale, rent increase leads to closure of two Whiskey Row businesses

Susan McElheran’s bookstore has been tucked away in a corner of the Hotel St. Michael’s Alley for 16 years, and says she hadn’t had a rent increase for an incredible 15 of them. But when the new owner of the Hotel St. Michael nearly doubled her rent, she made the decision to close the Old Sage Book Shop. “It’s time to retire,” McElheran, 66, said in the final weeks of December. “I’ve decided to sell books online.”

A regular customer of Old Sage Book Shop for the past five years, Judy Colyn stopped in to make a purchase. She described the store as “comfy and yummy,” and having a nice vibe. “It’s really sad,” she said about the impending closure.

A 15-year no-rent-increase situation is unusual. Joe Robertson, owner of Joseph Robertson Gallery, said every rental agreement he’s been involved with had some kind of language for inflationary raises at minimum. He said he appreciates that the previous owners didn’t insist on increases during his seven years operating in the Alley.

A friendly face at Krieger Gallery

Regina Kilmer, the hotel’s general manager, said the building sold to Shane Ortega last March. Including the St. Michael, Springboard Hospitality manages 46 hotels in 13 states. Sedona resident Ortega owns several Arizona hotels, Kilmer added.

Changes under new owner and management are not just about hiking rents and losing clients, though. Tasteful transformations also have appeared inside the building.

Since acquiring the hotel Ortega has reopened the restaurant, the Bistro, for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. The ballroom, which had closed during the pandemic, is now the upscale Lobby Bar. Still to come are room renovations and the reopening of the basement bar, not used since the 1980s, Kilmer said.

Eight of the ten businesses leasing space in the hotel remain, including the downstairs bakery and hair salon, and the Joseph Robertson Gallery in the Alley.

“We just signed a new three-year lease,” Robertson said. He refers to the hotel as “the cornerstone of Whiskey Row.”

“I’m happy with the location. I eyeballed the space for some time prior to acquiring it,” he said. “To be a part of that was a dream of mine for a long time.”

In addition to Old Sage Book Shop, Heath and Cathy Krieger have chosen not to renew their lease. The Krieger Gallery offered Heath’s ceramics, Cathy’s paintings and work by other local artists.

“We are 70-plus, so this is good timing,” Cathy said, “I do feel sad about loading paintings in a box.” The Kriegers will continue to sell through their website and galleries in Tubac, Scottsdale and Zion, and will still be involved with the annual Prescott Studio Tour, Cathy added.

The hotel's new Lobby Bar occupies the ballroom.

“I have a lot of ideas for new work. It’s a positive time for a new beginning,” she said. “I’ve lived here over 50 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes. There are different people shopping, and it’s kind of finally caught up — it’s not just ours, other galleries too.”

Woodworker and photographer Stephen Smith sold his work through Krieger for about eleven years. He has moved some of his work to Van Gogh’s Ear, farther south on Whiskey Row. In January, he also showed his and his brother’s work at the Prescott Center for the Arts Studio Gallery in collaboration with the stage show The Prisoner of Second Avenue at Suze's Prescott Center for the Arts.

McElheran said that in addition to unpacking 200 boxes of books stored in her garage, she also plans to get back to writing, play with her dogs, and spend time with her husband — and maybe travel to Oregon.

Susan McEhleran helps a customer at the Old Sage Book Shop.

Kilmer said this month new renters of the Old Sage space will open Good Vibes Art and Media, which will feature photography and fine art. That will leave one vacancy on the Alley.

“I would encourage people to support locally owned businesses in Prescott,” McElheran said, and stepped away to help another customer.

For more information on the Lobby Bar and Hotel St. Michael, visit stmichaelhotel.com. To reach the Kriegers, call 928-778-4900. To contact Stephen Smith, visit stephensmithstudio.com. Joseph Robertson Gallery is in Suites A and C at 110 S. Montezuma St. Susan McElheran can be reached by email at oldsagebookshop@yahoo.com.

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