For a decade, honeybees died in distressingly large numbers.
But in downtown Westport, they’re alive and well.
At least, their honey is.
On Friday, Bedford Square welcomed its newest tenant. Savannah Bee Company — an artisanal honey and body care store — opened its 8th location. It’s the first outside the Southeast.
“They’ll have to sell a lot of honey to afford that space” is the reaction from some residents.
But others who have seen Savannah Bee in action — in its 3 eponymous locations, or its upscale locations in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, St. Simons or Lake Buena Vista — know it’s more than just a honey store.
And folks who have wandered in since its opening are all abuzz.
Savannah Bee is the brainchild of Ted Dennard. If you think his company is interesting, wait till you hear his back story.
Dennard grew up in St. Simons, Georgia. When he was 13, a beekeeper asked his father for permission to put hives on the property. His father agreed — provided the man taught his kids about beekeeping.
Dennard studied religion and philosophy in college, then joined the Peace Corps.
He opened his first store in 1999, selling tupelo honey. He expanded slowly, adding sites and expanding his mission.
Customers at the Bedford Square store can sample a variety of honeys, from several continents; bottle their own (from local beekeepers), and enjoy treats like “artisanal honey chocolate” made by Fred Knipschildt.
Dennard has spent time in this area, and loves it. Westport, he says, is a community that “seems to appreciate what we do, and understands the wonder of the honeybee world.”
He calls bees “an amazing species. They keep the world thriving.”
Dennard marvels at their complexity, their important (if unsung) role in nature, and their appeal to anyone who understands them. After 40 years, he says, “they never let me down. I’m always learning more.”
So he’s undertaken the Bee Cause Project (get it?). Savannah Bee donates hives to schools. Students watch bees build honeycombs, make honey, raise babies, do their dances and pass nectar.
More than 250 schools already participate, in 46 states. Each beehive is worth about $2,000.
Savannah Bee also gives honey to students, to sell. The money they earn helps fund more hives, in more schools.
“Bees have been around for hundreds of millions of years,” Dennard says. “We’re taking the long view. We’re trying to raise a generation that loves, understands and protects honeybees.”
He learns a lot from bees. One lesson: “You don’t get anywhere unless you’re moving.”
Savannah Bee Company has moved out of its Southeast hive. It’s now making honey — and happy customers — in downtown Westport.