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Shalimar Resort draws lifetime guests

By Staff | Apr 30, 2010

A seaside cottage at Shalimar, with bikes and a path the beach.

Everything changes.

But for places like the Shalimar Cottages and Motel on Sanibel it seems to take a bit longer.

Here at the old Florida style resort, dinner socials and fishing are the main amenities.

And the people who have called Shalimar their home away from home for decades, they couldn’t be happier.

On a recent stroll at Shalimar, the aroma of cinnamon, smoky bacon and crisp toast permeated the airy cottage of Max and Jane Mason.

These vacationers have been coming to the Shalimar for decades. This picture was taken in 1975.

The homey feel and scent in the couple’s Sanibel rental matched their pleasant chatter and laughter.

Max Mason chatted about fish – big ones he and his family and pals have caught over the years – right in front of his cottage. And Jane Mason’s blue eyes widened as she spoke of the social dinners and get-togethers she and Max enjoy every year at the Shalimar.

“This place is sort of like a little family place,” said Jane Mason.

Max Mason said he loves his view of the sea as well as his postmaster duties at the resort. Max, 92, dons a postmaster cap that Romas Vaikus, the general manager of the Shalimar, got him. He then proceeds to collect the resort’s daily mail from a mailbox for Vaikus,

The Batavia, N.Y. residents have been coming to the Shalimar for 30 years. During this time the Masons’ have made more friends than they can count from more countries and places than they can easily remember. There’s Mic Portwine from England who Max pals around with.

Vaikus comes by regularly to chat with the cheery couple.

“Everybody knows Max and June,” Vaikus said.

And of course the Masons’ children and grandchildren come every year to bunk in one of the immaculate, quaint cottages by the sea.

Inside the cottages, the gentle roar of the sea is pretty much all that one hears. The 11 old Florida style cottages were built close to the gulf in 1959 before Sanibel became incorporated.

In 1973, a 20-room hotel was completed. Chet and Nancy Niesel have been the owners of the Shalimar since 2005, Vaikus said.

Vaikus, who hails from Lithuania, came to work and live at the Shalimar before the Niesels’ bought it. He seems to part of the Shalimar’s charm and draw for return guests. He fishes and socializes with the Masons and Portwines. And the tall, but soft-spoken innkeeper helps orchestrate the annual farewell social – a gathering filled with food, libations and laughter.

There are no strangers in Vailkus’s registry.

“It feels like a family,” he said.

Vailkus treats his Shalimar family with socials every Friday and has hand-built fishing stations next to the guests units.

And some vacationers stays are punctuated with a little bit of merrymaking and mischief. It is not uncommon for guests to pull pranks on each other every now and then. One fellow fell asleep on the beach to later awake to sea birds circling him and a trail of popcorn scattered around him.

But this is life at the Shalimar. It’s a sort of rewind to the carefree innocence of the 1950s era when families and simple pleasures took center stage.

“We just tell stories,” Vaikus said with a smile.

Local artist Myra Roberts is creating a historical painting of the Shalimar for its owners. The piece will also be put in the next edition of her book called “Retro images from the Florida Coast”.

“I often ride my bike by the Shalimar and admire the old Florida feel it evokes,” Roberts said.

And the combination of clean amenities, location near the beach and social outlets create repeat business for the Shalimar.

Like the Masons, Franz and Mary Stewart have been coming to the Shalimar since for decades.

“It’s clean, neat and dependable,” Mary Stewart said as she signed out for the season and said her good-byes.

Most visitors stay at the Shalimar about two months, Vaikus said.

And a rough economy did not seem to deter longtimers from coming back. In 2008, the occupancy remained at 99.4 percent. In 2009 the Shalimar retained 95 percent of its occupancy and this year they hit 96 percent, Vaikus said.

He attributes their success to a sense of loyalty and comfort with the Shalimar.

“People like it here,” he said. “They feel at home.”