The Busy Bee Hardware and Dry Goods store has been a fixture in our city for longer than any of us can remember. In fact that store, now just called Busy Bee Hardware, moved to its present location in 1922. The wood plank floor has been walked on by generations of Santa Monica residents seeking a washer, a burlap bag, a good hammer…it is, most importantly, that simple shop where everyone knows your name. Busy Bee had begun as the Columbia Grocery and Meat Market around 1912. Since groceries were perishable, owner Mr. Haine wisely adapted his inventory as the store moved from 1347 3rd Street to mid-city. His family still owns the land under the store. In case you’re new to our town, Busy Bee is located at 1521 Santa Monica Blvd. The current owner, Don Kidson, bought the business in 1963. He was a traveling hardware salesman who loved Busy Bee, made a deal and the store became his.
I would wager that almost every resident of Santa Monica has walked into the store at one time or another. Santa Monica’s Glenn Ford worked the aisles while attending Samohi. Ewan MacGregor, Tommy Chong, Zack Galifianakis and Donald Sutherland are customers, and former President Ronald Reagan counted on Busy Bee as his local hardware store. Bill Nye “The Science Guy” has placed his headshot on the wall of celebrity photos, with the inscription “Hardware is a science”. I am just one of the thousands of residents who have traversed the narrow, filled-to-the-brim aisles of this special store. Like many others, I started my journeys to Busy Bee with my grandparents and parents as a small child. The store has hundreds of local house credit accounts, including over twenty with the City Of Santa Monica, four with SMMUSD, and a UCLA Medical Center account.
Busy Bee is the last remaining hardware store in our city. It’s a store that would feel at home in any small town in America. Luckily for us, it’s in Santa Monica. Exceptional customer service has always been the trademark of this legendary business. Now it’s threatened. UCLA owns the land directly east of Busy Bee and is using it as a parking lot for their medical facilities. They have offered to buy the small parcel of land that Busy Bee occupies, in order to add about a dozen valet parking spaces. UCLA has told the Haine family (property owners) that a key provision of this sale would be the closing of Busy Bee Hardware. That’s right. Ninety-four years of continuous business in one location in our city would be wiped out by UCLA’s need for more parking. To insure victory, my friends at UCLA (yes, I’m a Bruin), have sued the property owner and Busy Bee for encroaching on their property. Evidently the east retaining wall stands – “wait for it” – three inches into UCLA’s property. That wall has been there for at least a half-century. For three inches and a dozen parking spaces, UCLA would wipe out the oldest existing business in Santa Monica. Think about that for a minute. Generations of Santa Monican’s have shopped in what we all consider OUR hardware store. It’s the last of its species – an endangered gem in a city bursting at the seams. It was never landmarked, yet it’s certainly our cultural landmark, our oldest store. For ninety-four years, customers have walked in and out of Busy Bee all day long. It’s not failing, even though former Mayor Bob Holbrook told me that one of his many purchases was for under a dollar. There is an extraordinary continuity in the ownership and dedication from the employees, to this relic of a simpler time. The weight scale in the back room dates to 1911. The walls (even the 3” encroaching one) have stories, thousands of stories to tell.
SMart has written about the retention of our city’s character, our distinct personality and the values of our intimate beachside atmosphere. We’re not against progress and certainly the Haine family has the absolute right to sell their property to whomever they wish. But shouldn’t UCLA, a public institution that owns a hospital and medical facilities in our town have some respect for our history? Shouldn’t they recognize the value of the businesses that existed here before their purchase of Santa Monica Hospital? William S. Mortensen, the co-founder of that hospital in 1926, shopped at Busy Bee and respected the surrounding businesses. It’s astounding that Busy Bee Hardware, that bright little store on Santa Monica Blvd could be done in, not by age, not by lack of leadership but by a corporate, institutional behemoth that has sadly lost its soul.
One dozen jobs could be lost. Our city’s oldest business may be demolished. Busy Bee is a living treasure to generations of Westsiders. City Planners are fond of saying that there has to be a “there” for a street or neighborhood to be valued. Busy Bee is certainly a “there” in mid-town Santa Monica. We have a choice – let UCLA create a few more parking spaces… and that parking lot will surely give way to a high-rise medical tower within a decade. We can choose the drive to a big box store like Home Depot for our nuts & bolts. Or we can let UCLA know that our Busy Bee Hardware store is iconic. Busy Bee is part and parcel of our city’s history and can survive with your support.
We suggest that you write or call John C Mazziota, the Vice Chancellor of Health Services at UCLA, (firstname.lastname@example.org (310) 825-6373) and let him know that we, the residents, value Busy Bee.
This is one David vs Goliath story we must win.
Phil Brock for SMa.r.t.