Since opening in May 2019, Unicorn Jiu Jitsu has increased membership, outgrowing its original training gym at 8502 SE Stark Street. Now they are relocating seven blocks down Stark Street to a newly updated space that will better suit their needs. Next month, the jiu-jitsu academy will move from its current location to 9220 SE Stark Street, taking advantage of the new storefront’s expanded training room and parking.
When starting the business, Unicorn Jiu Jitsu co-owner Hillary VanOrnum knew it would be a special place to train. Her position as the head coach instantly made the gym unique, and with the help of her family, they created a safe place where everyone feels comfortable in class. “There’s not any other gym in Portland, Oregon, that a woman is a head coach, and we have a pretty diverse membership. There are some classes where the majority of the class is women, and that’s pretty unusual in Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” explained Hillary VanOrnum. “A lot of gyms you walk in, and there’s one or two women on the mats, but in our gym, it’s often fifty-fifty.”
Hillary VanOrnum is Oregon’s second female black belt and places well in competitions, having won world championships. As a paralegal for a major communications company during weekdays, she schedules her classes in the evenings and Saturdays. However, eight other instructors teach at Unicorn Jiu Jitsu, including her co-owners, husband Brian, and brother Andrew Wright. Classes range from all levels of adult training to popular kids programs for ages 6 to 9 or 10 to 13. “The majority of our classes are what we would call fundamental so that they’re geared towards those just starting out their journey. It takes some people ten years to get to their black belt,” said Co-owner and Assistant Head Coach Brian VanOrnum. For the advanced members, “we have our competition class where that class is geared specifically towards those looking to compete. We don’t do a whole lot of teaching techniques in that sort of class. It’s just your opportunity to come to get some conditioning work.”
The current location served its purpose for three years, but Brian VanOrnum explained that the configuration no longer meets their needs. “We’ve experienced quite a bit of growth over the past year, and we’ve simply outgrown the space.” Additionally, “our training space is just a very small fraction of what our total square footage is, and you know honestly that that needs to be reversed. The training portion of our space should be the majority of what the space is.”
With the constraints of the existing gym and their lease coming to an end, the owners began looking for a new location earlier this year. However, they wanted to retain all their current students. “There’s always that fear of moving a considerable distance away and losing a big portion of your membership,” said Brian VanOrnum. So when a space became available next to Stark Street Pizza Company, the group jumped on it.
Over the last few months, crews have reworked the pizza shop adjacent storefront, removing its retail past. The building’s owner added new drywall to the demising wall for enhanced fire protection and reconstructed the ceiling. Soon the bare concrete floor will have a softer wood base to support the practice mats covering most of the ground. Carpet tiles will define the front lobby area, with a vinyl plank walkway leading back to the restrooms. The gym’s interior paint will retain its gray color palette from the old location. However, an accent wall painted in an “intense teal” color adds pop and definition to the open space.
Unicorn Jiu Jitsu hopes to have classes in the new location by January 2nd, with the full move completed by the end of the month. The expanded space will allow the group to continue offering all the same classes while also supporting gatherings and events. Hillary VanOrnum wanted to host activities for organizations she endorses but needed sufficient gathering space. As an organization dedicated to building and strengthening the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community for women, Girls in Gis fits perfectly with Unicorn Jiu Jitsu’s goals. Soon, the Montavilla gym will have the space to host that group’s events.
Until the move, scheduled classes will continue at the old spaces. Look for signs and buildout progress at the new location towards the end of the month, and contact the gym if you want to take classes in what they call a “safe placed for violence.”
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