Bierings build Bee City into buzzing habitat and destination
By John Clayton
Welcome to Bee City.
Population: Well north of a million, including hives abuzz with honeybees, an aviary filled with colorful birds, a few too-cute ring-tailed lemurs, a couple of camels, a rare snow leopard, 38 monkeys and a persnickety emu named Beaker.
What began as a hobby for founder Archie Biering with a group of hives he called “The City of Bees” has grown into a full-fledged interactive zoo sitting alongside a sandy road in Cottageville.
Bee City has become a destination for families and elementary schoolchildren and much more than a business for Scott Biering, who has taken over Bee City’s operations from his father and his mother, Diane.
“Mom and Dad have always been go-getters,” says the younger Biering, who now employs 28 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees in the zoo and bee operations, including his wife, Bridgett, a former nurse.
“Whatever is the next need, the next project, they’re like a moth to the flame, and they go after it,” he says of his parents. “I got that disease from them, and I plan on doing it another 20 years. I love the animals, and I’m passionate about it. It keeps pulling me forward.”
What’s All the Buzz About?
It starts with the bees at Bee City — always has.
Biering says the apiary has grown exponentially since he took over the operation. “It started with 300 hives when I took over the place, but we have more than 10 times that right now.”
The hives alone currently require five full-time employees, and Biering says he expects that number to increase by one or two in the next year. Bee City honey and honey-based products are sold in about 80 regional outlets, including Harris Teeter, Publix and other stores.
“People thought Dad had lost his mind,” Biering says of the honeybees, crediting an article in a local newspaper that helped spread the word. “People brought their kids to see the beehives, and kids learned about how honey was made.”
That tradition continues at Bee City today as students from area schools and organizations meet the bees and the rest of the zoo during a class Bridgett Biering often teaches. She unveils a glass-covered hive in the classroom as her grand finale.
“This is such a great educational experience for our kids,” says Stacey Brown, who arrived with around 30 elementary school-aged home-schooled children from Grow & Learn Weekdays (GLOW), a social and educational group. “We come here every chance we get.”
Part of the curriculum for that short class is the importance of honeybees as a huge part of the ecosystem — locally and worldwide. “We try to teach them the importance of honeybees and that they’re endangered,” says Scott Biering. “We do it in a way that’s age appropriate because we don’t want to scare anybody.”
As soon as the GLOW group left the classroom, a larger group from Ridgeland Elementary School filed into it.
“Anytime I start feeling overwhelmed with all the complexities of running a business, like taxes and employees, insurance and all that — when I get bogged down in those areas, I walk out the door and look around,” Scott Biering says. “I see the kids having such a good time, and I’ve had adults come up to me and say that coming here changed their lives. The healing power of animals is amazing sometimes. No matter what else happens, that makes it all worth it.”
The students who have arrived by car and busload at Bee City aren’t the only ones who have received educations in the animal kingdom.
Biering bought into the family business in an effort to be closer to his parents, but he quickly saw the learning curve was steep. “I built a house in Summerville, but I sat down and thought back one day that I had only seen my family four times over the past year,” he says. “I was 20 miles away, and I wanted to get to know my father as an adult.”
Biering says he decided, with the support of Bridgett, to invest in the family business and build a different kind of life surrounded by honeybees and a diversity of animals. “I knew life would change dramatically,” he says. “I thought it would slow down a good bit, but I was wrong about that. It’s been perpetual motion ever since.”
The first part of Biering’s new journey was learning the new business with the help of his father, Archie. Some of the most important issues like animal care were all new to Biering. “Getting a network of people you can trust and work with is big,” Biering says.
Biering says he received connections and lessons from his father. “There are a lot of people I can rely on for advice, and I have a network of great veterinarians who work with us now, and they’re awesome.”
Oftentimes, Biering and Bee City serve as a rescue for animals that fit into the mold of the zoo, which continues to grow and undergo physical improvements.
More animals and birds for visitors to admire continue to arrive at Bee City. “I’ve always loved Eurasian eagle owls, and we’re looking at getting an eagle owl,” says Biering with the excitement of a kid visiting the zoo for the first time. “We already have the snow leopard, and I still can’t believe we have a Carolina snow leopard right here.”