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Local speakeasy uncovers deep roots

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Ryan McGinnis

In 2019, Zach Cage opened a bar. And unlike the opening day of Brewer’s Cabinet, Sierra Taphouse and Ole Bridge Pub—all endeavors he partnered in creating—the first sale he made this time around was not a cocktail, beer, or even a soda water. It was a wrench. A wrench some passerby saw, and keenly wanted, from the storefront’s window display on Third Street. 

Shim’s Surplus Supply

To be fair, this is what the passerby saw while meandering Third Street close to 3 p.m. the same day Cage was inside, preparing the final details for opening day. After knocking forcibly for a few moments at the front door, Cage directed the lady to enter through the back door…but, for the second time, the lady was bewildered to read this door is “For Deliveries Only.” 

“What kind of business is this?” Cage imagined what she must have thought.

Finally Cage brought her inside Shim’s Surplus Supply Co., where, in place of army goods, clothing, antiques and hardware supplies (like what actually occupied this building decades ago), there were privacy booths, a jazz stage, a gramophone, and a bartender who greeted her.

This was, in fact, a speakeasy, albeit a modern take on the clandestine bars made popular during Prohibition. While the need to keep alcohol secretive is no longer a burden, nearly everything else in Shim’s is an ode to the foregone bar concept that popularized jazz across America.

Cage enjoyed the allure of secret passageways as a child, so when the speakeasy concept began to re-popularize across the U.S., he knew it was finally time to quit the corporate world, where he spent the last 18 years doing finance for technology companies like Microsoft.

In his partner’s previous bar endeavors, he had been in the background while they did the day-to-day operations. Now he wanted to be on the frontlines, taking Shim’s from a conceptual idea to a bar he could enjoy managing.

Shim's Surplus Supplies
The storefront of Shim’s Surplus Supply doesn’t allude to what’s inside: a speakeasy with a jazz stage. Image: Ryan McGinnis

Family ties

Historically, as Cage would soon find out, Shim’s Surplus Supply Co. wasn’t the only tenant of this downtown property to share the name. For many years the tenants included a slew of bars that hosted jazz music, but not much was readily known before this era, according to Cage.

Then, serendipitously, some time later an elderly gentleman, a carpenter who assisted Cage with the remodeling, shared a memory. His high school girlfriend, some 45 years ago, perhaps worked in this very building. At the time you could buy Old Navy bell bottom jeans for $6, he recalled to Cage. The place was called Shim’s Surplus Supplies.

A lightbulb came on. Cage immediately knew this made for a great faux-storefront, a gag speakeasies made famous during Prohibition to evade law enforcement. The gag would later fool Cage’s first customer. 

He scoured old Facebook groups and social media sites to find some remaining vestige of the previous owners. He finally came across Cathy Spencer, whose maiden name was Shimkovsky. Bingo. Her father, Frederick Lewis Shimkovsky, bought Shim’s Army Goods from his grandfather in 1962, running the business for a number of years before retiring in 1991.

Shimkovsky passed away in 2019, but not before Cage managed to reach out to the family to get their blessing about his idea. It was a hit.

And, ironically, the newfound relationship sparked a contemporary family connection to the building Cage inhabits. Two relatives of Cathy Spencer work various roles in the liquor industry (one of which is a liquor representative for Cage) and now they frequently stop by Shim’s for a drink, in the same building their great grandfather made a living generations ago.

An original ad for Shim's Surplus Supply
A newsprint ad for the 1960s grand opening of the original Shim’s Surplus Supply. Image: Ryan McGinnis

Doing business face-to-face

Cage is excited for what’s to come, and he certainly knows how fortunate he is to be part of the Brewer’s Cabinet family.

“I’m the beer man, I might as well be the frontman of a rock band,” he said, later acknowledging that there is a  “special integrity to doing business face-to-face,” that bars have inspired people to do for generations. 

This is one of the many things he’s learned while opening Shim’s and helping with the other Brewer’s Cabinet projects—something he’s proud to carry on today.

Shim’s Surplus Supply Co. is located at 125 Third Street in downtown Reno. It’s open Sunday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday 3 p.m. to close. For a schedule of musicians and other events visit online at https://shimssurplus.com/.