United by Blue—the on–campus coffee shop formerly infamous for its lack of seats for studying—has recently undergone renovation. United by Blue expanded their square footage to accommodate more customers and feature more apparel. An oddball combination of clothing store and coffee shop, United by Blue is “a brand to benefit the planet” according to store manager Renée, who declined to provide her last name. “It started with our T–shirts, but the coffee shop was a way to get people in the store to talk about the mission.”
United by Blue’s mission statement is dedicated to sustainability and clean water initiatives. The expansion of their store aligns with their vision, as the store incorporated repurposed hardware and reclaimed wood in the new additions. The newly renovated storefront is still located on 3421 Walnut Street, sandwiched between Starbucks on the right and Dunkin Donuts on the left. Despite the stiff competition, the larger–than–ever United by Blue is still packed on a Wednesday afternoon. Upon entering, the shop still looks like the same intimate coffee shop. But to the left of the coffee bar, there is a spacious, entirely new room for customers to utilize. The renovation is shocking; the small coffee shop has nearly tripled in size.
A much–needed upgrade is the increased seating: the shop is now outfitted with wrap–around benches on the periphery of the room. The far side of the bar, previously backed up to a wall, is now available as seating too. In the center of the shop are large wood tables for customers to sit, study, and socialize. However, staying for the long haul might not be advisable: the chairs are metal and the outlets are far from the tables.
What is worth staying for is the new menu, with options that will take you from morning to afternoon. Diners order up at the register and take a number holder to their seat to wait for their meal to arrive. Unlike the typical pre–made breakfast sammy, United by Blue allows customers to customize with the Build Your Own (BYO) option. For grab–n–go, head to fridge section for a variety of different snacks, even for those with dietary restriction (real or made–up). For health nuts, there are kombucha and grain salads. However, the local pastries selection is worth indulging. “All of these bakeries practice the same sustainability practices as we do. We get our croissants from Machine Shop, based in Philadelphia. We also buy from Crust Bakery, which is vegan. We have lots of vegan baked goods,” said Renée.
United by Blue expanded to take part of the property previously occupied by the Gap. Taking advantage of the former retailer’s large windows facing out on Walnut Street, United by Blue uses the windows to feature their apparel. Within the expanded store, United has increased their inventory on their rugged, outdoorsy clothing line. There is even a dressing room in the back left corner of the new room to try on items. Beyond the hipster–lumberjack essentials of flannels and beanies, the store also sells camping supplies like sleeping bags and canteens. While not necessary on Penn’s urban campus, they could be useful when sexiled from your dorm room.
United by Blue’s expansion brings much needed relief to weary students, coffee drinkers or not, looking for a study spot. It offers the perfect combination of quality coffee, good eats, and plenty of space.