SKOWHEGAN — For Karen Lewia and Lynda Quinn, the Skowhegan Free Public Library provides a sense of nostalgia.

“It’s an old building, but it has so much charm and personality,” said Lewia. “I spent a lot of time there as a child and was away for 25 years. I think not having always lived here gives me a different feel for it.”

Both appreciate the work put into maintaining the library and the work that’s gone into restoring the 1889 Queen Anne-style building, which completed $1.5 million in renovations in 2016, using money raised from fundraising and grants.

The upgrade included a new staircase, elevator, roof, chimney repairs and a finished basement equipped with computers and a genealogy room.

With the upgrades and added technology, an opportunity arose to offer new programming and services for free to community members.

“Those renovations were in place and all of a sudden the library exploded with programs and activities,” Quinn said.

Though the library receives funding that has increased throughout the years — receiving $175,000 from the town at the annual Town Meeting in August — the need for more continues to grow as staffing and technology continues to advance.

Karen Lewia is seen Thursday through the storefront windows of the Friends of the Library Shop at 61 Water St. in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

At that same August meeting, Quinn said that 16,000 people went through the library the year before. There are approximately 9,500 residents in Skowhegan.

Lewia and Quinn came up with the idea of the Friends of the Library Shop as a way to provide a steady flow of money for the library to assist with programming, which has been temporarily halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. They pulled in Kirk Karkos, and together with their combined business knowledge, the trio made the idea a reality within the walls of 61 Water St.

“People are glad that the money is going to a good place,” Lewia said. “They have brought us things that have been a part of their life and they’re passing on to someone else. They’re excited to see that there is something that is going to support the library,”

The group reached out to Friends of the Library, a nonprofit founded in 1998 whose goal is to aid, assist and render services to the library. The group is made up of the head librarian, staff and members of the Trustees of Bloomfield Academy. When they were on board with the idea, the project took off and the shop was born. From there, the group worked to get the proper licenses and permitting required and opened the store.

“If the store takes off at all and there’s a relatively constant stream of money into the library, then at least when we get back to having programs again, they will be supported,” Quinn said. “Money always gets tight toward the end of the fiscal year.”

Karen Lewia is reflected in a mirror Thursday in the project room at the Friends of the Library Shop at 61 Water St. in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The store offers gently used books and household items as well as a project room with old furniture in need of restoration.

In the month that the store has been open, the group said it has already made enough to cover a couple months’ worth of rent and utilities expenses. The hope is to be able to provide a steady flow of funds to the library to continue supporting programming when in-person services are able to be offered again.

“COVID really pulled the rug from under our feet,” Quinn said.

The library, which will reopen on Jan. 10 after closing on Dec. 19 to run inventory, has been offering curbside services to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Order forms are available through the library’s website.

“They’ve always been very mindful of the budget, so anytime they plan programs and books, they are mindful of what the budget is. If we can ease that just a little, that would be great.” Quinn said. “We appreciate that library.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.