The email, like so many of them, came unbidden into my inbox.

It had pictures of cakes and cupcakes shaped like beehives. I was about to hit delete when this line caught my attention: “Thank you so much for supporting our little hive! We are a female owned & operated small business. We make all our note cards and art prints right here in our little Shoppe in Salt Lake City, Utah.”

Ever on the lookout for the new, the unique and the innovative — which is to say something to write about — I wrote down the address of The Beehive Shoppe, planning to check out this business built entirely around bees.

I drove to the address on the email: 12 Market Street in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few steps west of Main Street and a few doors up from Market Street Grill … and found nothing.

The Melting Pot fondue restaurant was on the corner, but no sign of a beehive shoppe.

Assuming another company had been done in by COVID-19, I was about to leave when on a whim I decided to walk inside the office building and climb to the second story. And there, behind door 290, I finally found what I came for.

The Beehive Shoppe isn’t a shop at all. It’s a 400-square-foot standard business office with a printer, a computer, packing materials, shelves stacked with “cute bee stuff” and a desk in the middle, behind which sits one very busy, uh, woman.

Turned out the “we are a group of women” is using the royal we.

Dena Kennedy, owner of Beehive Shoppe, shows some of the bee-themed artwork she sells at her office in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 30, 2021. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

For the love of bees

All by herself, Dena Kennedy launched this past March: an online-only business featuring a website full of all things bees. There’s bee jewelry, bee artwork, bee home decor, bee kitchen wares, bee cookbooks, bee refrigerator magnets, bee aprons, bee keychains, bee salt and pepper shakers and especially bee notecards, because if you’re a lover of all things bee you don’t write a note without it being next to an illustration of a bee. There’s even a bee blog.

Some of this bee stuff, the notecards and the art prints for instance, Dena designs and makes herself, printing it in the 400-square-foot office. The rest, she scours the websites of companies that market things with a bee theme.

She considered opening a brick-and-mortar store to display all her bee wares, but passed when she looked at what people are charging for rent these days. And it is, after all, the 21st century. Entrepreneurs can do just fine with a virtual presence.

She occasionally has people like me, usually a bit older, usually a bit technology challenged, who show up at 12 Market Street befuddled that there’s no actual store, and, like me, eventually find her in her office.

“I should probably put out some kind of sign,” she says.

Then again, she’d have to find the time. An average of 30 packages go out of her office every day, most of them via the U.S. Postal Service. And if Dena doesn’t send them, well, they’re not going to send themselves.

She could hire an employee, but for the moment, “I kinda want to keep it this way,” she says, “I have come from so much big, busy, chaos over the last 20 years, I’m really enjoying this being kind of a hobby that makes money. I don’t want right now to grow out of this beautiful light lovely awesome downtown office.”

Making a new start

Newly single, with three grown married sons, Dena sold a hotel she was partners in in Nauvoo, Illinois, during the pandemic, moved back to Utah (she grew up in Orem) and started thinking about starting a business centered around something she loves. Bees and beehives was that something.

“I can’t totally explain why they affect me like they do, but I just love bees and beehives,” she says.

From selling bee-themed items when she was running her hotel, she also knew she was not alone.

“People who love bees and beehives, they love bees and beehives,” she says. “They’re kinda crazy people. And there are a lot of them.”

She compares the obsession to fans of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“Anybody who loves Harley-Davidson, you know you can get them a gift that is in any way Harley related and they’re going to love it,” she says. “It’s the same thing with people who love bees and beehives.”

Setting her business in Utah, at least virtually, ties in nicely with the state emblem, the beehive, and with the local culture. Although out of the 50 states, Utah ranks only seventh in sales in the five months she’s been in business, behind Texas, California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Her favorite part of her new business, she says, is “getting to hear the feedback from my customers, other crazy bee people.”

Curiously, the only thing she doesn’t sell are actual bees and beehives.

“I’ve always wished I could be a beekeeper,” she says. “But I haven’t learned that skill or had the opportunity, and I can’t very well put them on the roof here. So I’ll have to move to a farm with a barn someday.”

Some things you still can’t do virtual.