Helma Swinkels, left, chats with Tina Neurauter of Victoria, a former shopper at Pot Luck Ceramics and now showcased artisan of handmade soaps and bath products at Bibi J’s, the new store in the former Pot Luck location on Gertrude Street in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Helma Swinkels, left, chats with Tina Neurauter of Victoria, a former shopper at Pot Luck Ceramics and now showcased artisan of handmade soaps and bath products at Bibi J’s, the new store in the former Pot Luck location on Gertrude Street in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Former Pot Luck Ceramics location reimagined as Bibi J’s

Owner Helma Swinkels revives social enterprise with new name, vision

The eclectic cottage on Gertrude Street that housed Pot Luck Ceramics until the end of September has opened its doors to another social enterprise: Bibi J’s.

Helma Swinkels, who built the Pot Luck Ceramics cottage, has reopened as Bibi J’s, a store offering a little bit of everything from home decor to jewelry and yes, ceramics.

“At Bibi J’s the world comes together,” says Swinkels. She has stocked the shop with colourful items from Nepal and India, South Korea, Turkey and Thailand, as well as with handcrafted items from Vancouver Island artisans.

“Bibi J’s emerges in the time of COVID-19 because of the social responsibility we believe in,” she said. “Bringing people together in a time we have to stay apart is where we find our strength.”

Swinkels promised when Pot Luck closed at the end of September that it wouldn’t be the last of the little cottage or of the social enterprise that raised more than $130,000 for the Ty Watson House Hospice and other charities. She spent the next month sourcing one-of-a-kind items such as cashmere scarves or pillows or jewelry from around the world as well as closer to home.

Bibi J’s—the name is derived from a name Swinkels’ grandchildren call her—offers items at a range of prices. “I wanted this store to be accessible for people with little money,” she said. Ordering one or two of many items gives her that flexibility.

Tina Neurauter of Casa Made in Victoria came to Port Alberni to stock some shelves at Bibi J’s with her handmade soaps and bath products. Neurauter and her daughter, who lives in Port Alberni, were Pot Luck Ceramics customers; Neurauter’s daughter brought a box into Pot Luck to purchase some ceramic kitchenware prior to the store’s closing, and Swinkels caught a whiff of some of the soap that had previously been in the box. It was her introduction to Casa Made.

“I asked her if she would like to sell her soaps here,” Swinkels said.

For Neurauter, who makes her living on craft and Christmas fairs—which have all been cancelled this year, thanks to COVID-19—Bibi J’s has been an island in a sea of economic uncertainty. “Like everyone else, COVID-19 has hit artisans so hard,” she said. Casa Made products are also available in a store in Duncan, and through online sales.

“Being able to get into a store, it’s your way of survival.”

Swinkels said she couldn’t let the social enterprise that Pot Luck Ceramics represented go to waste. She will run it on her own for the next couple of years and try to achieve what she did with Pot Luck, only on a smaller scale.

“COVID-19 has taught me I don’t need to be open every day…people are willing to make appointments, people will come when you’re open,” she said. “It’s a different way of shopping; it’s going to be more intimate. And it has to fit into my private life.”

She still plans on donating proceeds, but knows she will have to do it in smaller increments—perhaps $2,000 at a time— than Pot Luck Ceramics did. Every little bit helps, she said.

Ultimately, she would like to see another non-profit organization take on Bibi J’s as its own profit-for-non-profit.

Bibi J’s is located at 4473 Gertrude St. and will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (and Wednesdays by appointment). For more information, find them on Facebook and Instagram or call 250-731-6463 and leave a message.

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictCharity and DonationsPort Alberni