Doing business with bees

Customers who walk into Revive Home Decor in Ashland to browse for vintage items often cross paths with honey bees coming and going from a hole in the shop's wall.

The bee colony has lived in the building for at least seven years, and business owner Stacy Shelley, who moved into the space in 2010, has learned to coexist with them.

"We don't want to harm them. As a shop owner, as long as they're not stinging people coming into the shop, it's fine," Shelley said.

Beekeepers have estimated there may be as many as 200,000 bees in the colony — so many that Shelley can put her hand up against the wall and tell where the bees are because of the heat they generate.

The bees enter and exit through a hole in the outer wall of the building. A decorative, metal, "Bee Crossing" sign outside alerts customers to the insects.

For the most part, the bees stay outside and rarely enter Revive Home Decor, even though the front door and a garage door into the shop are often open.

The vintage shop at 264 Fourth St. is in the historic Haskins Garage building. It still sports an antique Texaco gas pump outside on the sidewalk.

While doing business alongside the bee colony has been largely uneventful, the bees did create a commotion last spring.

When temperatures rise each spring, thousands of bees normally split off from the home colony and fly away in a swarm to create a new colony, leaving behind thousands of their hive-mates.

This year, a swarm emerged but failed to fly away for days on end.

The sight of swarming bees frightened some people, while attracting others who came to see the spectacle.

Shelly said a few of her customers were stung, along with outdoor diners across the street at Peerless Restaurant & Bar. Some people walking down an alley on the side of the building also were stung.

Darlene Beckett, who owns the Haskins Garage building along with her neighboring business, Deluxe Awning Company, turned to beekeepers with Medford-based Little Heathen Honey for help.

The honey business has a hotline for people to call when bees swarm. Its beekeepers will capture and relocate bees.

The plan was to capture the colony and move it to Hanley Farm outside Jacksonville.

Although Little Heathen Honey was able to gently vacuum up about 40,000 bees and move them to the farm, the queen of the colony was so deeply embedded in the wall that she couldn't be found and moved, Shelley said.

The wall is made of hollow concrete blocks, and digging out the queen would destroy the wall, she said.

Beckett said the remaining members of the colony will be allowed to stay in the wall. She has no plans to exterminate the insects.

"We're opposed to killing them," Beckett said. "Honey bees are definitely a species at risk at the moment. We would be happy to move them, but they're stubborn. They're happy to be there."

Next spring, when the colony swarms again, Beckett said she plans to have netting installed to create a flyway that will funnel bees toward the roof of the building, high above people's heads.

As the building's owner, Beckett said she does have some concerns about liability risks associated with having the bees there.

A bee sting for most people is a painful experience, but stings can prove deadly to those who are allergic and experience an anaphylactic reaction.

When the colony was swarming, Beckett put up multiple signs to warn people about the bees.

Shelley said she tries to make people aware of the bees.

"There are beehives in other parts of town. It's part of living with insects and other creatures," Shelley said. "You can get stung anywhere."

With so many bee hives dying off nationwide because of colony collapse disorder, it's important to protect healthy bee hives like the one living in the building's wall, Shelley said.

Customer David Blair, who was recently browsing through vintage items, said he hadn't even noticed the occasional bee flying by near the sidewalk.

"I hope they treat them well. We need our bees," he said.

Jonathan Reilly, a foreman with Oregon Aerial Construction, was recently working his way down the alley next to Revive Home Decor, transferring telephone lines from one pole to another.

Bees flew back and forth past his crew members, who continued performing their tasks in peace.

"Honey bees are somewhat endangered," Reilly said. "You have to appreciate the honey bees. Honey bees used to be in abundance. Here in the Rogue Valley, we're known for our pears and other fruit. Without bees, nothing gets pollinated."

Across the alley, Pattie Millen, principal broker at John L. Scott Real Estate, said she used to be afraid of bees — ever since a colony invaded the chimney of her home when she was a child.

Some customers at the real-estate office seemed wary during the days that the Revive Home Decor bees were swarming, but other people came to see the bees, she said.

At first, Millen said, she wanted Beckett and Shelley to do something to get rid of the bees, but then she started watching the insects more closely and developed an interest in the colony.

"They were very compassionate with the bees, and I learned that compassion," Millen said. "It was good for me, too. I'm not afraid anymore."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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