When Mercer County natives William and Emily Lambert heard about the mass decline in honeybee populations several years ago, it sparked an interest in the young couple. Soon, they started researching how they could help save this important insect. They decided to pursue beekeeping, in order to increase the honeybee population, and in 2014, the Lamberts started their own honey operation known as Blue Ridge Bee Company.
Over the last six years, the business has grown significantly — evolving from an online-only model to a storefront in the Mercer Street Grassroots District that sells anything and everything a beekeeper — or a honey lover — could need.
“Our main goal for Blue Ridge Bee Company is to teach people to keep bees properly, helping them thrive throughout the year and rebuild the bee populations,” said William.
Emily, a professor at Bluefield College, has a Ph.D. in biological sciences. William, who has a degree in geology, worked in the oil fields for Halliburton before transitioning into substitute teaching — covering engineering classes at Mercer County Technical Education Center (MCTEC) — and construction. It was around this time that he began beekeeping.
“I was on the road a lot and would find myself with time on my hands. So, I would research subjects I was interested in,” he said. “I had thought about trying beekeeping previously, but I wasn’t at home enough. Once I got off the road, I took a class, got some equipment and started really getting into it.”
William added that his interest in “old-timey ways” played a part in pursuing his new activity. Together, William and Emily began the process of becoming bee keepers, and then started to produce materials and products for the industry. They even created a custom design and sold it on Ebay. The revenue helped them carry out the next step of their plan.
“We had this vision to open up a storefront that was reminiscent of an old-timey general store,” William said.
The building at 858 Mercer Street had been vacant for quite some time, and the Lamberts put in a lot of effort into renovations — maintaining historic elements like vintage brick, stone facades and hardwood floors — before opening to the public in December 2019.
Blue Ridge Bee Company sells beekeeping kits for beginners, hive components, maintenance equipment and protective gear, treatments, honey extraction and bottling tools and live bees.
“We carry everything that the big suppliers carry — everything that a beekeeper could need,” William said.
Of course, there’s plenty of honey, too.
“We have honey from all over the US, including our own harvest that we call ‘WV Wildflower’. We have about 18 different varieties — probably the biggest selection of honey in the state,” William said. “It comes from beekeepers that we have gotten to know over the years.”
In addition to the beekeeping supplies and honey, the store offers local food products such as pasture-raised meat, produce, jams and jellies, cheese, milk and baked goods as well as handmade goods like soaps, candles, lip balm and jewelry. Hand-dipped ice cream and bulk candies are also popular.
“It was kind of intentional, adding in these other items,” William said. “We knew that just the beekeeping supplies wouldn’t sustain us year-round [beekeeping can be somewhat seasonal]. This was our way to stay afloat, and it also tied back into our traditions. It has been way more successful than we imagined.”
Even with the addition of the storefront, community education is still central to Blue Ridge Bee Company’s mission.
For the Lamberts, what started as a side project has become a full-time passion.
“I enjoy beekeeping myself, and I enjoy helping people with their beekeeping,” William said. “We feel like we are doing something good for the community. We are really appreciative of the support we’ve received and hope that people will continue to support us and other local businesses.”
Blue Ridge Bee Company is located at 858 Mercer Street in the Grassroots District. The shop is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit blueridgebeecompany.com or search @blueridgebeeco on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
This post was last updated on November 23, 2020