For fifty-four years, Don Kidson was the proud proprietor of the famous Busy Busy Hardware in Santa Monica. (Even stars like Jerry Seinfeld visited, as you’ll see below.)
Don’s ownership spanned from 1963 until his passing in August of 2017 at age 85. So strong was his spirit, family, friends and customers are still mourning. This Sunday, however, the sadness will be replaced by a joyful celebration of Don’s rich life.
To enter Busy Bee, with its small aisles and shelves lined with tools and supplies, was like stepping into the Twilight Zone. It felt like a bygone era when a shop owner courteously helped customers. (Many of Don’s customers did view him as a friend and vice-versa.)
Other than family, faith and so many friends, what brought Don the most joy was helping people solve their fix-it problems. Outgoing and soft spoken, Don could have been a minister, or in the Peace Corps, or a singer in a church choir. (Which he actually did for many years.) Don was a gentle soul but with a twinkle in his eyes and an inspiring self-confidence. Ahead of his time, he had beautiful long hair in a pony tail, was an avid vegetarian, and shopped at the Co-Op on Broadway.
In fact, Don often prepared delicious raw food meals for friends. He also hosted a public access TV show, “Hardware Humanitarian,” encouraging viewers to eat healthier for themselves and the planet. (Apparently Donald Trump never tuned in.)
Don always had a ready smile and time to help his customers get the right part, fixture or tool. Once he spent so much time with me and the item I ultimately bought was only $5, I wondered how he could afford to do that. His satisfaction was clearly not just dollars and cents.
At today’s hardware warehouses, much of the time you can’t even find a salesperson. And if you do, they’re always running in the opposite direction. (At Busy Bee they ran to you.)
At the hardware super-stores, if, God forbid, you don’t know the exact item or the exact tool, the impatient salespersons’ eyes invariably glaze over. They look at you like you’re an idiot. (Which, with mechanical things, I often am.)
Everyone I interviewed had praise for and wonderful memories of Don. And this even includes someone Don fired. The man acknowledged he deserved it, but added that Don was especially sensitive in the way he handled it.
Don’s childhood was difficult to say the least. Born in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression, after his dad’s untimely passing, he was raised by a single mom who struggled financially. And then, when Don was 16, his mother passed away. He and his two sisters were placed in various foster homes.
Hard times make some people bitter but for Don it seemed it gave him compassion. He graduated from Venice High School in 1950 and two years later, he married his sweetheart, Sally Higgins. The two had a combined “nest egg” of $50.
Don soon joined the Navy where he was a gifted “pattern maker,” designing Naval equipment. After his honorable discharge he went to work for Douglas Aircraft but in the early 1960’s there were layoffs. In fact, in 1963, Don found himself temporarily unemployed. That’s when maybe fate stepped in.
Sally’s father, a successful hardware salesman, knew of a store owner in Santa Monica who was looking to retire. The store’s name… Busy Bee! That’s how Sally’s father, Don and Sally went into business. And the subsequent fifty-four years became a part of Santa Monica history.
As his childhood was challenging, as an adult, Don had his share of tragedy. In 1987, Sally, his wife of thirty-five years, passed as did his son, Jeff, in 2007. Don endured both with grace.
In politics Don had strong opinions, including a lack of fondness for Hilary Clinton. He shared that at the Co-Op with my staunchly liberal friend, Alison, who agreed but for different reasons. When Don speculated Hilary was a Communist, Alison joked, “If she were, I might vote for her.” To his credit, Don laughed heartily.
In the area of self-improvement, as his daughter, Laura, noted, “Dad didn’t believe in limitations.” In his 80’s and having always felt his reading and writing skills were lacking, he spent months studying and markedly improved both! (I kidded Laura about my writing, “So you’re saying there’s still hope for me?”)
The celebration of Don’s life will be Sunday at Twentieth Church of Christ, Scientist, Los Angeles in Venice at 132 Brooks Avenue from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. RSVPs are required at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sunday there will be singing of hymns, warm remembrances and amusing stories about Don. My guess, however, is if they’re any tears, they’ll be tears of joy.
To see Seinfeld at BBH: https://fyc.crackle.com/programs/comedians-cars-getting-coffee/videos/champagne-cigars-and-pancake-batter OR Google: Seinfeld, Waltz, Busy Bee Hardware. Jack is at: email@example.com