Pamela Stollings (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

PICO BLVD — So, there’s a place in Santa Monica where you can get music, art, laughter, get smarter, express yourself, make a difference in the world, and various other takeaways, depending on how you make use of the space — but most of all, be a part of the community.

The Unurban is a quaint bohemian-style coffee house. Inside, you’ll find mismatching wallpaper, chairs and tables that placidly come together for a nice colorful mix. It sits on Pico Boulevard and 33rd Street and people who come in notice you can’t compare it to corporate coffee shops like Starbucks, especially since it aims to be a resource to others and brings the community together.

“It’s not just a business where I just want to make money and get people to get in and get out … there is something for everyone” said Pamela Stollings, the person behind the community minded business.

The Ohio native, a ballet dancer, came to the Westside to pursue different types of dance and ultimately wanted to open up a community space with artistic aspects — and over 16 years ago, she opened the Unurban.

Over the past 16 years, Unurban continued to evolve and Stollings is always willing to adapt and change for the people. Most recently, it’s been a hub for political activism.

Stollings opens up her coffee shop to all kinds of meet-up groups, open mic nights for music, comedy and poetry, a revolving art show, vaudeville music and dance night, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings 365 days a year, documentary film screenings, and more — all free of charge.

A neighbor to Unurban, Gary Stewart, moved into his home the same year the coffee shop opened and undoubtedly expresses that it’s a place that makes a city worth living in.

“The place is really built around the community and it’s giving people, who want to hang out at a place with more soul or more character,” Stewart said. “And it’s the kind of public place that we see less and less of that we need more and more of.”

To run a community-based coffee shop and with corporates moving in next door, Unurban’s been faced with threats and Stollings endured a number of struggles. One time she was threatened that she would be replaced by a corporate outfit.

“We’ve had three different landlords, one was trying to rent it to Starbucks. It was really scary,” Stollings said. “I really think that it’s a good place and doing good for the community, so we’re really just supposed to be here and since we’ve been such a positive influence to the community, they kept us because they realized that we were a good anchor.”

Stollings is all about people over profits and if it weren’t that way, Unurban wouldn’t still be around. There were many coffee shops similar to Unurban, but they didn’t last because corporate types would out-price them, and that wasn’t an option for Stollings, even if it meant working 100 hours a week.

“If I was about the profit, I would’ve closed down a long time ago,” she said. “I try to keep the prices low so people can come and feel a sense of community, but now, with the economy being so bad, it’s actually been better for us because people know they can come here, get coffee, get Internet for free, see a show, hang out, and talk to people.”

At times like these, Stollings feels it’s really important for people to have community places and there aren’t many places like hers, but through her community support, she’s able to make things happen by allowing people to do their thing.

Michael Louis, one of many leaders and contributors who put on activities — as a volunteer — at the Unurban, enjoys giving a piece of his creativity to the community centered space to host open mic nights for spoken word, poetry and performances. And the reason isn’t only because he likes what he does, but also because of Stollings’ pure passion for the community and advocacy for artists.

“Pam gets it, Pam stands out because she, herself, is an artist,” said the open mic host. “This is in her guts, and she aligns herself with others”

This past November, Stollings held a gratitude dinner for all the people like Louis, who host different nights, run meetings or shows and it wasn’t until she put her attendee list together that she realized how big the Unurban community had grown and how many people she needed to invite.

The appreciation dinner turned out to be for 70 people. People who don’t get paid for their service. People who she relies on.

“It was the first time she did anything like that, as far as getting us together in one room,” said Louis. “There were so many different groups and so many [who are] of service to the community.”


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