Business as (un)usual: The Valley Hive

Natalie Miranda, Assistant Culture Editor

A 10-year-old boy came to The Valley Hive with his mother to confront what he feared most – bees. As the child extended his arms to grip a frame full of bees from Keith Roberts’ hands, Roberts could see the boy’s fear vanish as they worked the hive together.

“Seeing that click, seeing that fascination develop out of what was once fear, that’s what I live for. And that’s what I feel has been robbed from me personally,” said Roberts, the co-owner and lead beekeeper at The Valley Hive.

Moments like this one reminds Roberts what it was like before the pandemic.

He and his partners Robin and Danny Finkelstein, like many other business owners, have been trying their best to keep up with the rules and regulations set by Los Angeles County.

“It was this extraordinarily fluid and very stressful time of every single day, there was a different ordinance that we had to follow, that we had to think about,” Roberts said.

The Valley Hive – a one-stop-shop for all things bee related – offers beekeeping education and services to the public, supplies necessary to care for bees at home, honey and gifts.

Deemed an essential business, The Valley Hive abides by the County’s COVID-19 protocols, including requiring face masks and social distancing. Additionally, only one customer or family is allowed in the store at any time to ensure customer and employee safety. The store is then sanitized after each guest has exited.

Despite their transition, Roberts said they have been in survival mode since March.

Close to 100 separate events, including classes, beekeeping experiences and community events were canceled in the wake of the pandemic, according to Roberts.

Keith Roberts prepares the smoker to open a hive on Nov. 5, 2020, at The Valley Hive in Chatsworth, Calif. (Natalie Miranda)
Keith Roberts uses the smoker to open a hive on Nov. 5, 2020, in Chatsworth, Calif. A smoker is used to mask the bees’ alarm pheromones. (Natalie Miranda)
Keith Roberts pull out a frame of bees from a hive on Nov. 5, 2020, at The Valley Hive in Chatsworth, Calif. (Natalie Miranda)

“One of the things that really makes us stand apart is how we provide the experience for the community, whether that’s from a beekeeping side or an educational side,” Roberts said. “That’s something that we have not been able to do except on a one-on-one basis.”

The incapability of fulfilling their usual festivities leaves the business financially vulnerable.

“We have been severely affected, because we haven’t been able to have any of our classes, we haven’t been able to have the volume of people come in here the way that we normally would,” Roberts said.

In April, bees are available for purchase. During peak bee season, The Valley Hive distributes high volume orders. But this task proved to be more challenging than in previous years due to the pandemic.

“Suddenly, instead of having people come on-site, we had to figure out how to distribute hundreds of bees – hundreds of packages of bees – without people getting out of their cars,” Roberts said. “And we did, we figured it out.”

The Valley Hive organized a curbside pickup system that allowed the bees to be transferred, while keeping everyone safe and socially distanced. During the night, customers lined up their vehicles on Topanga Canyon Boulevard at their scheduled time, opening their car doors or trunks to accept their hives without face-to-face contact.

Honeybees on top the lid of one of the hives at The Valley Hive on Nov. 5, 2020, in Chatsworth, Calif. (Natalie Miranda)

Roberts said he’s grateful for all of the employees who are adapting alongside the business during this uncertain time.

“In this very chaotic environment, they show up to answer the bell every single day,” Roberts said. “Any company knows that you live and die by your employees, and I have the best ones out there.”

Although The Valley Hive is currently unable to host groups of people in one space, Roberts looks forward to the day they can go back to their original syllabus and bring the community back together.

“What I love most about beekeeping is I get to teach this form of community to people of all walks of life,” Roberts said. “I can get 50 people in front of us whether or not they’re progressive left or Trump supporters. They’re all cooperating together to learn this wonderful ancient art and to see the way that the bees work.”

Keith Roberts, co-owner and the lead beekeeper at The Valley Hive stands in front of painted bee wings outside of the gift shop on Nov. 5, 2020, in Chatsworth, Calif. (Natalie Miranda)