It was much more than a neighborhood hardware store.  The Busy Bee Hardware Store was a monument to past times of service and personal attention.  It was a museum and a work of art, the walls lined with hundreds and hundreds of small drawers holding nuts and bolts and screws and almost anything hardware item imaginable.  The original store owner personally built all these drawers.  I wonder what happened to them after the store closed.

Every time I drove west on Santa Monica Boulevard I would look for the big sign on the side of the building, Busy Bee Hardware.  Just to reassure myself that it was still there.  Always afraid that it would be swallowed up by growth, progress, modernization and all those other good things that end up destroying us a little at a time.  Then one day last week the sign was gone.  The store was empty.  A small but essential piece of my life had vanished.

Busy Bee survived almost 100 years.  It went through the great depression, World War II, and countless other calamities.  But it could not survive progress.

One Man Made all the Difference

Many of the Busy Bee customers came to know Don Kidson, the owner.  I started shopping at this remarkable vestige of the past nearly 50 years ago, when I moved to Santa Monica.  You walked in the door to be greeted by a flashing red light with a sign advising you to take a number as you passed through a turnstile.  Then you waited for a sales person, usually only a minute or two.  Often no wait during the off hours.

I never once had a bad experience at the Busy Bee.  All the sales people were courteous and knowledgeable.  I often got the feeling that they had some kind of past, the kind of background that would make employment difficult.  On the way out you passed by the little machine that duplicated keys, then a bunch of easy to buy impulse items, then the check-out with a cashier who always seemed to have a slight edge.  Not enough to be offensive, just enough to be interesting.

There must have been 10,000 different items in that store, probably more.  All of them in the little drawers or in the glass counters, or possibly in the back room where you could get metals and plastics and fencing and hose and pipe, all cut to size.  While you stood there and watched.

Don Kidson was the owner and he always spoke to me.  He was a small and rather slight man with a gentle manner.  Over the years he seemed to shrink noticeably, and the hair in his ponytail grew white.  He died last August, and I mourn him.

Closing Took A Chunk of Me

The Busy Bee was a part of my life in Santa Monica.  When it closed a chunk of my world went with it.  It was wonderful to have a way to find almost any kind of fastener or part.  The shop itself was a work of art, with worn wooden floors marked with metal measuring tacks and numbers.  You could lay a hose on the floor and cut it to measure.  It has the smell of a well preserved antique, a mixture of old wood and machine oil.  I always felt good after visiting there.

When I moved to Santa Monica almost 50 years ago is was a charming little village, with an easy-going life style.  It is now a throbbing metropolis jammed with mixed use retail/residential, internet enterprise, multi-million dollar condos, and traffic jams that frustrate any attempt to drive downtown.  Most of the time I stay home.

I love progress and technology and all its benefits; the antibiotics that I take every day that keep me alive, the pacemaker that has given me at least 10 extra years, the incredibly intricate chairlift that wends its way around three flights to cart me around the townhouse I share with my beautiful wife.  I hate progress because it is destroying our hearts and souls.  Are you ready for a world where almost no one works, and almost everyone is totally immersed in virtual reality?  I’m not.

It was just a few days ago that I found out that my beautiful Busy Bee was gone.  That night I had a strange dream.  The Busy Bee had turned into an app, filled with icons.  As I looked at the app the icons disappeared one by one until there was nothing left.

Want more information?  Try a web search on Busy Bee Hardware Santa Monica. Or… enjoying this post

You will find photos, descriptions, a lot of interesting stuff.  They say that everything on the Internet stays there forever.  So Busy Bee will always be around in some form or other.

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