Local business owner celebrates four years of art and cultural center
By Dave Fidlin | SDUN Reporter
When Alma Rodriguez made her first steps into a vacant North Park building nearly five years ago, she saw beyond the disarray and decay.
After assuming a previous business owner’s lease, Rodriguez transformed the interior of the building, located at 3925 Ohio St., into the current Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center. Along the way, she also created a venue that celebrates a full range of art forms and personal expression.
The Cultural Center formally celebrated its fourth anniversary earlier this month. Reflecting on the milestone, Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, said the entire experience has more than surpassed her initial expectations.
“When I first saw that facility, it definitely was run down,” she said, “but there was a real charm to the venue as well. I saw beauty. I felt a certain energy and knew I was meant to be here.”
Launched just as the nation’s economy spiraled downward, Rodriguez and a group of dedicated workers rehabilitated the interior of the facility and introduced Queen Bee’s to the North Park community. From the onset, Rodriguez said there was tremendous support, and now the operation has evolved over time.
To date, Queen Bee’s has hosted more than 100 non-profit fundraisers and community events. Additionally, the center has been a destination for hundreds of artistic programs that include concerts, private events, art shows and dance classes.
While the events are disparate, Rodriguez said she desires to host programs that inspire people and promote personal expression. Inclusiveness, she said, is the overarching theme within the organization.
Gill Sotu is among the local artists who said he benefits from Queen Bee’s presence in the community. Sotu is the mastermind behind several regular programs, including the open mic Train of Thought poetry events that are held most Tuesday nights at the venue.
“There aren’t many spaces I know of that offer so much in a centralized location,” Sotu said. He brought Train of Thought idea to Queen Bee’s in 2010. “It’s really an all-purpose facility that’s benefited a lot of people.”
When he married nearly a year ago, Sotu’s wedding was held at Queen Bee’s, a nod, he said, to the importance the venue has played in his life in recent years.
Rodriguez said entrepreneurial endeavors are in her DNA. Prior to helming Queen Bee’s, she oversaw a concert promotion business and began booking local bands at a club she ran, the Hot Monkey Love Café, near San Diego State University.
As Queen Bee’s was beginning, Rodriguez also made the decision to wind down operations at Hot Monkey Love.
“Running a business is a lot of work, but it’s rewarding,” Rodriguez said, who sometimes puts in 17- and 18-hour workdays. “But I really don’t know any other thing to do. This is where I’m meant to be.”
While she is director and official “queen bee” of the operation, Rodriguez quickly points out a small staff and swath of volunteers have made the operation a success in the past four years.
As she has settled into North Park, Rodriguez has also enjoyed witnessing the neighborhood’s renaissance. She credits passionate business owners and property owners – including her own landlord, Allen Hitch Jr. – with investing in the area.
More recently, Rodriguez has extended her business sense as a board member of the local business association, North Park Main Street.
“I’ve meet some really beautiful people in this community,” she said. “I’m with people who are fulfilling their dreams, and we’re doing it all together.”
Perhaps one of the most-often asked questions surrounding Queen Bee’s is the operation’s name. When asked what inspired her to adopt the moniker, Rodriguez heartily laughed.
“I had struggled coming up with a name for the business,” she said.
When word got out that Rodriguez was transplanting her business talents from the SDSU area to North Park, a local publication reported on it and referred to Rodriguez as a “queen bee.”
“People were coming up to me and calling me a queen bee after that article came out,” she said. “It stuck with me. Besides, I like bees and their whole culture. They all depend on each other, just as I depend on the people helping with this business. Without them, I cannot be a good leader.”
Amid the work, Rodriguez said she is grateful for the opportunities that have arisen in the past four years.
“I still pinch myself sometimes and wonder if this is all a dream,” she said. “The path has been very incredible.”