After struggling to stay afloat for many of the past 18 years, the nonprofit board of Primo Boxing has decided to close up shop at the former firehouse by Haley and Quarantina streets at the end of the month. For years, Primo Boxing — run by Joe and Jean Pommier — provided not just free boxing lessons for low-income kids, but for many a necessary home away from home. The Pommiers famously went the extra mile for their kids — picking them up late at night if need be, making sure their homework was done — but never mastered the administrative or fundraising requirements of running a nonprofit.
Primo got two years behind on its rent to City Hall a few years ago after one of its major funders went out of business at the same time that grants from City Hall — then facing chronic budget woes — shrunk. The Fund for Santa Barbara intervened more than a year ago, guaranteeing that Primo’s rent would be paid for three years if the Pommiers agreed to establish a functioning board of directors. But according to Joe Pommier, the new board pulled the plug after concluding — one year into the three-year term — it couldn’t raise the funds needed to pay the club’s expenses, insurance, and salaries.
Pommier — an accomplished boxer in his youth — said on any afternoon, Primo, which operates on a shoestring budget, would have 20-30 young people either working out or hanging out. He said he’ll be setting up shop at a nearby jiujitsu gym, but there, classes will be $120 a month rather than free. Pommier said he’s willing to offer free boxing workouts at nearby Ortega Park if there’s interest. “It hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “I’m sure it will when we get closer, but I keep things on the back burner so I don’t have to think about it.” Although the Pommiers have been at the helm the past 18 years, Primo Boxing dates back to 1981. In the meantime, City Hall will assess the conditions of the old firehouse and start looking for a youth-serving nonprofit to move in.