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Shalimar Library Turns Another Page

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The children’s area at the Shalimar Library.

By Alita Feek

 

Shalimar, a small enclave between Fort Walton Beach and Eglin Air Force Base, is a sleepy residential area. It has a few restaurants and some retail, but not much else. So you can imagine my surprise when I found the Shalimar Library. It’s a quaint, independently funded library that runs on donated bric-a-brac, $15 annual memberships, and a whole lot of love. “Hidden gem” is an overused cliché, but in this instance, it absolutely fits.

 

I discovered the Shalimar Library upon moving here in 2016. As a librarian who is also a military spouse, my first task when relocating—after getting the lights and water turned on—is to join the local library. Finding the Shalimar Library was a fantastic surprise. Back then, it occupied a tiny log cabin behind the Aegean restaurant just off Eglin Parkway, with a small thrift shop next door that helped fund library operations. Wandering into the cabin was like stepping back in time, with the wood paneling and nooks and crannies stuffed with books and magazines.

 

In 2015, the property changed hands and their lease was not renewed, so the library had to find a new home. In January of 2017, it opened in a brand new building near the intersection of Eglin Parkway and Richbourg Avenue. “We went 21 years in the old location,” muses Dan Brown, current President of the Friends of the Shalimar Library. “Two years ago, we began searching for a new home and found this location. We’ve been extremely fortunate with the people, the volunteers, the contractors, the timing—everything.”

 

Finding the new site was even more special than anyone had anticipated, because one corner of the lot is the final resting place of Gus Tart. Born into slavery in 1840, Tart was from South Carolina, believed to have fought for the Union, and eventually made his way to the Florida Panhandle, dying in 1915.

 

Brown explains that Tart was known as a local hunting and fishing expert. “And he was renowned in Pensacola as a fishing guide.” The Shalimar Library planned the site very carefully, wanting to “make sure he was recognized,” Brown says, and they succeeded nicely. The corner is fenced off, and a new headstone honors Tart’s memory.

 

The library itself was designed by volunteer Allen Hemmer, who happens to be a retired architectural engineer. The new building houses the library in one of half and the thrift shop in the other. Hemmer explains, “I drew up plans based on different locations and went through five or six different layouts. What you see is all custom for here.”

 

All the books, painstakingly hauled down Eglin Parkway in liquor boxes and plastic crates, now fit in one area, and there’s plenty of room to grow. Spacious and modern, the building is a perfect union of form and function. It is the same charming place, but with much more room. Most special of all is the children’s area. Kids get their very own space with child-sized furniture and plenty of books. It’s bright, cheerful, and fun.

 

And then there is the thrift shop, which Brown says “barely paid its way at the old place, but here it’s going well. Use of the thrift shop has gone up substantially.” It’s easy to see why. The old shop was tiny and hard to navigate. Now the whole place is bright and airy. From kids’ toys to golf clubs—and of course, used books—there are treasures for everyone.

 

According to volunteer Anne Fowler, “Everything for sale is generously donated by the community. We appreciate all donations, although we can’t accept large items such as furniture.”

 

When I ask Dodie Edwards, a volunteer since 2004, what items sell best, she promptly points at a nearby table and says, “The one-dollar table. That, and bric-a-brac.” Edwards is a retired teacher, and she laughs when asked how she got involved. “I’ve always liked going junking—yard sales, that kind of thing, so when a neighbor suggested this place, the rest was history.”

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