It's a gym, theater, library ... a building for the community in Harbor Beach

Harbor Beach is a small, tight-knit, one stop-light kind of town. 

This friendly city sits on Lake Huron in Michigan’s Thumb – it’s a community where everyone knows everyone. Like most typical towns, it boasts parks, museums, a movie theater, a library, etc. 

At the heart of the city, standing at the northeast corner, is a nearly 100-year-old building, the Harbor Beach Community House

The is a multi-purpose building, in all senses. Serving as a community center and unofficial hub of activity for residents, the Community House has created a strong sense of identity, purpose, and proven resourceful to Harbor Beach whether it's through library materials, gym equipment, meeting rooms, live music, or more. 

Vicki Mazure, library director at Harbor Beach Area District Library, oversees the library and the management of the Community House building. 

Books line shelves in the library in the Harbor Beach Community House.“It was in 1921 that the original building opened,” Mazure says. “It had been donated to the community several years earlier. It had been a store that was owned by the Jenks family, and they donated it to the community so the community could create the community center in the building. It took them a couple years, and they remodeled the building and it was opened in 1921 as a community center. In 1926, it burned, and this building was constructed and opened in 1927.”

Today, the fireproof building contains a theater, stage with a curtain, movie screen, a gymnasium, a fitness center, meeting rooms, and more. The theater seats 405 patrons for movies and special events like concerts and comedy shows. 

“The building itself is used for all sorts of things,” Mazure says. “It houses the library, and we try to host programs and provide things that are of value to the community.”

Local organizations, including boys and girl scouts, meet here, as does the local rotary club, and even a quilting group. Nearby schools use the gymnasium for basketball practice. Neighbors take advantage of the treadmills and weight machines at the new fitness center, which opened last fall. 

“It is definitely a center meeting spot for the community, and people know if they’re having a meeting and need to gather somewhere, they will contact here to see if we have a room available for them,” Mazure says. 

Items related to the Boy, Girl and Cub Scouts adorn one of the community meetings rooms in the Harbor Beach Community House.As for entertainment, the Community House also opens its doors to touring musicians, tribute artists, comedians, and the silver screen.

“In the theater, we show first-run movies four days a week,” Mazure says. “The library sponsors a free movie every Monday, and we do special events like concerts there also.”

While the concert series dates back more than 20 years ago, those events were dropped when attendance started to dwindle, she says. After COVID, they started working with a native resident and booking agent Dave Wruble to bring back more live entertainment to the theater stage. 

“We’ve done 80s rock, and next year we have a Kenny Rogers Tribute show. We try to do a variety of music,” Mazure says. “Our comedy show was very well-received last spring, so we’ll hopefully do a few more of those. Normally our concerts are between 200-250 people, but we’d love to sell it out.”

As more townships, villages and communities have come under fire of book bans, or threatening to defund libraries, Mazure feels the Community House is vital to the people of this area. Within a community, the library provides an integral place for people by offering more than just books on shelves. 

Coffee cups hang on the walls in the Citizens Coffee Room in the Harbor Beach Community House. “Libraries are the one place you can go for free information, and you get quality information,” Mazure says. “We just recently started a Library of Things, so we have board games, kitchen utensils and tools like a pasta maker, an air fryer, dehydrator, ice cream maker, electric screwdrivers, gas leak detector, and more.

Things you might want to try but aren’t sure if you want to buy it for yourself, you can come and borrow them at the library. We have a bunch of outdoor yard games to borrow too. We’re trying to expand to be more than just books – to be whatever the community needs.”

Listening to the needs of local neighbors and community residents directly shapes what the center provides in terms of resources and programming too. Mazure says staff are always open to hear suggestions. 

“We built the fitness center because we had some members come and ask if we could do that, so we looked and found a spot in the building where we could do it,” she says. “We’re always trying to evolve to meet the needs of our community. I hope the community will continue to support us, and that we can continue to support the community.”

First-run movies are shown in the theater four days a week.Mazure hopes to increase the activity for patrons, even those past the early literacy years, throughout the middle school era. While many parents bring their young kids to the library for things like reading time and activities, once adolescents reach a certain age, the library typically sees their patronage drop off. 

“We’ve been trying to reach out to the schools and had a couple library staff members going to the high school and telling them about the resources we have here,” she says. "We’re trying to let them know what’s available, reaching out and seeing what they would like from the library. We’re trying to listen to the community and see what needs we can fulfill.”

Local residents are able to get a free library card, and residents outside of the district can purchase a library card for a $25 annual fee. 

Looking ahead, Mazure hopes to continue the legacy of the Community House as a go-to place for residents, no matter what their need.

“Going forward, I just hope that we can continue to meet the needs of the community, and we’ll keep adjusting to those needs,” she says. “We’re always trying to evolve to meet the needs of our community. I hope the community will continue to support us, and that we can continue to support the community.”

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at
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