Next door to its sister business on Water Street, the Bee’s Knees is the cat’s pajamas when it comes to unique, environmentally friendly products. And while it has a mission of being kind to the Earth, it’s also doing its part to foster the local economy.
The store was opened in late April partly out of necessity, said co-owner Peg Norman. She and Gerry Rogers own the Water Street building — which also houses the Travel Bug — and were having a hard time finding someone to rent the space.
“There was no interest in that space. The current climate in the province was of doom and gloom, which is being perpetuated by our municipal and our provincial government. Not many people that are trying to start a new business are willing to take that risk in an environment where you’re being told by your leaders that it’s horrible, it’s terrible, it’s an awful situation,” Norman said.
“I had no plans on doing anything, but I really wanted somebody in there that could pay the rent. And I realized in about early January that what I was looking for was somebody like me, who could open a retail business, who had retail experience, that knew how to do that and had a track record with running a successful retail business in the city, particularly in the downtown.
“And I thought, shit, it’s going to be me.”
With that bug in her ear, and with a desire to sell eco-friendly products, Norman curated a unique variety of goods to fit the criteria.
“Everything has to be either upcycled, recycled, eco-friendly, ethically produced and local — one of those,” she said. She tries to do the same at The Travel Bug, but it can be tricky to fill a store with products that fit the bill, she said.
It’s hard to sum up the store’s wares in a sentence or two; there’s everything from alpaca blankets and hammocks from Ecuador to handcrafted wooden spoons from Quebec. There are homes for bees, butterflies and bats, kids’ toys, and handbags made out of leather from old airplanes.
There’s a real spotlight on local products, too. Norman said some of the most popular items are mats and dog toys made by a part-time crab fisherman in Conception Bay South.
“He was seeing all of the end-of-life fishing rope going to the landfill. In the fishing industry, you’re not going to be using rope that’s frayed, so once it’s reached that condition it’s no longer useful in that industry. So he started making mats, and they’re really neat, and they’re well done and they’re well priced. He also makes a dog toy with that knot called the monkey fist,” she said.
There’s also jewelry by a local artist who uses bark-tanned seal leather, locally made wooden cutting boards, and needlepoint kits from Molly Made Fibre Art Studio in Bonne Bay, among other local goodies.
The store’s dedication to being environmentally friendly goes beyond its products; nothing leaves the store in a plastic bag. Paper bags are used, along with Boomerang bags — totes made from previously used fabric that can be borrowed and returned to the store.
Norman is hopeful the new store will do well despite all the doom and gloom.
“It is challenging in this economy, but people are still living here, you know? We haven’t put the locks on yet, and until we do, we’ve got to keep on keeping on,” she said, adding she just doubled her staff.
She pointed to Anita Carroll of Posie Row, who recently bought the building next door to expand her business.
“She’s also going to be providing a supportive environment for other small businesses and artisans, almost like an incubator for small businesses,” Norman said.
The entrepreneur — whose Travel Bug operation just turned 12 — said she would absolutely encourage others to go ahead with their plans to open a business.
“I want to see every storefront on Water Street with a business in it, because the more business there is, the more reason there is to bring people downtown, the better it is for everybody. I would strongly encourage anybody, if they’re thinking of opening their own business, do your research, talk to lots of people, but don’t be afraid, because it is possible.”