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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 5, 2016 -- A City leader said Tuesday he tried to find a way to help Santa Monica’s historic Busy Bee Hardware keep its doors open after nearly a century in operation on Santa Monica Boulevard.

But City Councilmember Kevin McKeown told the Lookout his efforts were for naught, and that he now sees no role the City can play in preventing the iconic store's possible closure.

“I can’t think of an appropriate way for the City to intervene in a voluntary sale,” McKeown, one of the council’s longest serving members, said.

Busy Bee, at 1521 Santa Monica Boulevard, is being sued by UCLA over a structure it thought was a wall separate from the store itself, but which actually served as a back wall for Busy Bee, said Laura Hausladen, daughter of store owner Don Kidson ("Busy Bee Hardware in Struggle with UCLA to Remain in Santa Monica," October 4, 2016).

Hausladen said her family, which has owned the business for generations, believes the property owner, George A. Haine, wants to sell to ULCA, which is expanding its medical facilities.

McKeown said the issue of Busy Bee’s future first came up more than a year ago and that he contacted Santa Monica State Senator Ben Allen, a former member of the University of California Board of Regents. McKeown also wrote an open letter in a local newspaper telling UCLA, “Back off Busy Bee, Bruins.”

“Can UCLA really intend to shut down a valued local resource, Busy Bee Hardware, over a wall that was built a few inches out of place over 50 years ago?” he said.

“Santa Monica has suffered the loss of too many small businesses to stand by and let the State of California elbow another one aside, even for a new hospital building.”

What is has changed since, he said, is the apparent willingness of the land owner to sell. Haine could not be reached for comment. And Busy Bee also sounds willing to move on, he noted.

The City would have no reason to intervene, McKeown said, although he remains ill at ease with the possible outcome of the case.

“UCLA’s interest in the land has been a constant,” he said. “I continue to have serious concern about their expanding parking at the expense of our losing a local business.”

Santa Monica has lost a long list of small independent businesses that contributed to the city’s unique vibe but shut down due to rising real estate prices. Several were longtime staples of the Downtown.

In February, Hennessey + Ingalls Bookstore on Wilshire Boulevard closed after 52 years due to rising rents and declining sales. It reopened in the Los Angeles Art District downtown ("Iconic Bookstore Closes Storied Chapter in Santa Monica," September 15, 2015).

The Tudor House, a well-loved British tearoom, closed in 2012 after nearly 50 years. Like other “mom and pop” stores in Santa Monica’s downtown, it was worn down by a recession as well as rising rents ("Santa Monica’s Tudor House to Serve its Last Cup of Tea," May 22, 2012).

The Midnight Special Bookstore, which started as a Venice coop in 1970, was famous for its left-leaning clientele and political events but couldn’t survive the era of big-box bookstore chains. It closed in 2004 after the landlord who kept the rent low for years died ("Midnight Special’s Final Hour," May 8, 2004).

But Busy Bee remains positive about its future, Hausladen said. The store hopes to broker a lease of two or three years, if need be, so it can relocate.

And that wouldn’t be all bad, Hausladen said. A newer, more up-to-date building would be a plus.

“Ideally, we would stay in Santa Monica,” she said. “We’d move but we’d keep all the cool things about Busy Bee.

“There are a lot of people who are so appreciative of us,” she said. “We’re optimistic.”

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