WOODSTOCK — When Bill Gartner was 8 years old, he said it was a “no-brainer” that he would be helping his grandfather and father with their beekeeping activities.

He learned the skills at a young age and kept those with him as he grew older, keeping bees himself along the way.

What some would consider a hobby, Gartner has made into a business — opening Shenandoah Bee Supply at 909 S. Main St. in Woodstock.

Gartner, 59, said he’s always been intrigued by how bees operate.

“I liked that the bees have a society, and they don’t deviate from that society whatsoever,” he said during a recent ribbon cutting ceremony with the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce for his business. “It’s a very interesting and intricate society. Everybody’s got a job, and they all do their job.”

Beekeeping, he said, is more than just putting up a hive and letting the bees work, though.

In the spring, you have to make inspect the bees once a week and take care of them. When the nectar flows over, you collect it and bottle it. Then you have to feed the bees through the fall, treat for mites and make sure your bees don’t get sick.

“There’s a lot that goes into beekeeping. When a normal person sees a hive from the road, they think it’s a pretty easy hobby,” Gartner said. “Well, that hobby soon turns into a small business.”

Bees have always been important in Gartner’s eyes, he said. And it goes beyond the fact that it gives him something to do and provides honey.

“You’re helping a population of animals to come back. The honey bee was diminishing in numbers. Without a honey bee, you don’t eat,” he said. “Honey bees pollinate the grass. What do cows eat? They eat the grass. Honey bees pollinate grain. Without grain, cows don’t eat. Without vegetables or meat, we don’t eat. I like to think of the honey bee as being right there at the beginning stages of the food chain that makes it all happen.”

The Gartners use 3-pound packaged bees from a northern mountainous region in Georgia. They drive down and pick the bees up themselves.

The climate in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Gartner said, is about the same as where the bees come from besides it being a little warmer during the winter months in Georgia.

“The bees adjust to it very well here,” he said. “They’re very hardy bees.”

The nucleus hives that they will sell this spring are all local bees. Queen bees are also available for purchase.

The shop will also sell bee supplies, packaged bees, and more.

“Anything you need for beekeeping, I can get it,” Gartner said. “If I don’t have it here, I can get it in a couple of days.”

Scott Currie, president of the Shenandoah County Beekeepers organization, said he was excited to partner with Gartner and to have his shop open in the area. He also said he hopes that it will encourage others to get into beekeeping.

“We’re really excited to have Shenandoah Bee Supply with us here because we really lack a solid beekeeping supply store,” Currie said. “There’s been so many that have closed in the surrounding area.”

Gartner, who owns the business with his wife Becky and lives a few miles from the shop in Woodstock, said he’d had the idea for opening his own shop for a few years.

When he got laid off due to COVID-19 cutbacks, he decided now was the time.

“Beekepers need supplies. More people are getting into beekeeping. I was hesitant at first, but I’m excited about it,” Gartner said. “I’m helping a community of people take care of bees. I figured that I’m buying this stuff and people are coming to me asking for advice, so why not open a store. It was a natural progression for me.”

Gartner said he had previously owned his own fire alarm business, so he wasn’t concerned about what it took to open a business.

All local bee clubs will get a discount along with fire and rescue, EMS, police departments and military personnel.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com