Naysayers said a niche stationery store wouldn’t work. Audrey Woollen proved them wrong
By Shanee Edwards | Photo Courtesy of Urbanic Paper Boutique
If you’ve been to Runway in recent months, you’re probably aware that Free Market, a modern retail collective of high end permanent and pop-up tenants, is set for a soft opening this November. And, if you’re a fan of Urbanic Paper Boutique on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, you’ll be thrilled to discover that the unique stationery store will be setting up shop inside Free Market’s 21,000-square-foot space alongside Alchemy Works, County Line Florals and Mexican eatery Loqui, just to name a few.
Founder of Urbanic Paper Boutique, Audrey Woollen, can’t wait to come to the tightknit community of Playa Vista. Originally from Philadelphia, Woolen began her career in the fashion industry. But after a while, she wanted something in her life that felt more meaningful. “I’ve always loved stationery and desk accessories, gift wrapping – all the little details that make someone’s day when they get something special in the mail. I had an aha moment in 2005 that I wanted to open a paper boutique. I was living in Venice Beach at the time and took a leap of faith in this idea,” she says.
Surprisingly, Woollen was met with resistance when she told the people around her about her business idea. “People at the time told me – literally so many people told me – that it would never, ever work. At that time there was only bigger box stationery like Papyrus and I think Crane. The concept of what I’m doing now has since then spread out, there are others; it was definitely a new idea for something this niche to be there,” she says.
Abbot Kinney was gaining in popularity at that time and Woolen was eager to take advantage of that upswing. While freelancing in the fashion industry, “I was designing stationery out of a rented garage in Venice and selling it at Farmers Markets and we had an excellent response to it. It was not a dying art – opposite. People wanted more of it and to have accessibility to it,” she says.
Woollen’s secret to success was not relying on just American designers, she also looked to Europe, Japan and Korea. “There were so many amazing lines [of stationery] that weren’t represented in these more chain stationery gift shops. I really wanted to put together something that was special and had an interactive experience to it,” says Woolen.
In addition to a retail shop with carefully selected merchandise, she sees Urbanic Paper Boutique as “a lifestyle establishment because we love doing events, workshops and super interactive and experimental things to bring people together. Because the nature of our business has so much to do with creativity and thoughtfulness, it’s very easy for us to translate that into different events that are based on giftwrapping or hand-lettering or different elements of hosting,” she says.
Woollen is confident her business will survive the pandemic, because it’s made it through rough times before.
“In 2009 or 2010,” says Woolen, “we had the economy collapse. I did not know how we were going to get through that time. But we did. This time, as scary as it is, is exciting because I love a good push. When things get agitated, new opportunities and creativity start to bloom.”