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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Artist Jim Holyoak’s installation “Quagmire.” Holyoak will be the first speaker for the Artist Talk Online Winter 2021 series. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College Artist Talk goes online for winter 2021

The series invites contemporary Canadian artists to speak about their professional practice

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
City of Port Alberni, ACRD prepare for compost collection in 2021

Roadside pickup is expected to begin in the City of Port Alberni in June 2021

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Most Read