I read this Talk of the Town last night about Burt Shavitz, the 79-year-old real Burt of Burt’s Bees, and was OBSESSED.
Shavitz finally sat and told the Burt’s Bees story, starting with building his hives—“It’s a way to make a living if you’ve got a strong back and a strong mind and good eyes”—and then, in 1984, meeting a single mother named Roxanne Quimby, who was camped by Lake Wassookeag. “She was man-hungry,” he recalled, “and she and I, by spells, fed the hunger.” Quimby and Shavitz began selling his honey, then candles from his beeswax, and finally—in a masterstroke—his motorcycle-riding, golden-retriever-raising life style. In 1999, Quimby bought Shavitz out for about a hundred and thirty thousand dollars; eight years later, the company was sold to Clorox for $913 million.
It ends with a semi-charming anecdote about Burt peeing outside? Very Talk of the Town-y. Since reading it I have told everyone I’ve talked to (so, two people!) about Roxanne Quimby, capitalist villain and/or misandrist hero. Upon re-reading, though, Shavitz’s phrase “man hungry” tipped me off to the possibility that there is a lot more going on here?
And of course there is! There is a whole damn documentary about it, thank God.
In the meantime, this Inc profile of Quimby in 2004 is kind of amazing, too:
At 36, I met Burt. He was selling honey on the side of the road. I stopped to buy some on my way to my waitress job. We became romantically involved, and I started helping him with the bees.
Immediately, I saw a business opportunity. Burt was selling honey in gallon jars for 12 bucks. You could get more money by selling it in smaller containers to tourists. So I took over the business end. I put honey up in cute little beehive-shaped jars. I made pretty handmade labels and started making candles out of the beeswax. Then I took them to the little craft fairs in the little towns. I’d make $200 a day. It gave me such a sense of accomplishment. Nobody told me what to do, when to be there, and how long I had to stay. That wonderful sense of independence was just intoxicating. And I thought, This is for me.
Until then, Quimby was living in a log cabin with her kids and trying to exist outside of capitalism (!!!). Soon, the business was making millions and she had to leave Maine, which she claims is not a great place to grow a business, namely because they issued one of her employees a child labor infraction. It’s all very confusing and fascinating.
Then there is also this Portland Press Herald story that mentions Burt got the boot when he had an affair with an employee? Oh dear. But that he ended up with 37 acres of land in Maine.
And this Times article assures me he is doing just fine:
(The company compensates him for the use of his image and employs him to be a brand ambassador, a living mascot.)
No matter. Mr. Shavitz, 79, maintains that he had “no desire to be an upper mobile rising yuppie,” and his living situation proves it: For decades he’s been in a string of modest houses, including his current one, in northern Maine, with no running hot water. He heats by wood stove. His companions are dogs.
Okay fine I am going to watch this documentary. While applying one of the thousands Burt’s Bees products I get in my stocking for Christmas every year and then never use, because chapstick is a scam.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons