Bee Downtown Takes Flight

Bee Downtown Takes Flight

Beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner uses rooftop hives to rebuild Durham's healthy honey bee populations


Bee Downtown got its start at the American Tobacco Campus when founder and fourth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner asked Michael Goodmon – vice president of real estate at Capitol Broadcasting, which revitalized the campus – if she could place a hive on ATC’s rooftop while she was serving as an intern there. Michael loved the idea, introduced her to the folks at ATC-headquartered Burt’s Bees (where Leigh-Kathryn installed the clear, observatory beehive near their front door), and the concept behind Bee Downtown bloomed from there.

Photo by Tommy Bell

The startup has since installed and maintained beehives for 19 businesses throughout the Triangle, including Durham-based Runaway, Bull Durham Beer Co., Honeygirl MeaderyAmerican Underground, EDCI/LEAP Academy and Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm. The hives, which house 50,000 bees each, serve to help rebuild honey bee populations and simultaneously provide a sustainable marketing tool for the companies who purchase them. “With more emphasis than ever being placed on corporate sustainability,” Leigh-Kathryn says, “partnering with Bee Downtown allows businesses to show customers their commitment to the environment.”

By the Numbers

Fall 2014, Leigh-Kathryn’s junior year at N.C.State (she’s been pursuing the business full-time for one year)

First Employee
Justin Maness (hired May 2016), lead beekeeper

2015: 11 hives in two locations
2016: 44 hives in 15 locations

Beekeeping Tours

Interested in learning more? Bee Downtown offers Durham hive tours. Sign up at

Laura Zolman Kirk
Associate Editor Laura Zolman Kirk is a Kentuckian turned North Carolinian who can't get enough of this buzzing community.