Ability Weavers is celebrating their second anniversary this week. Much has changed over the past two years, but the overall purpose and mission of the business has remained the same. Products are made by those with some type of disability, providing them with meaningful employment. Proceeds from the items sold are used to pay employees and hire more when needed. Owners Eric and Beryl Bartkus volunteer their time. Starting off with offering handmade table runners and mugs, the variety of products has expanded in the past 24 months.
Products Beyond Rugs
During their first year in business, Ability Weavers focused mainly on making rugs. Table runners were also added early on. And by the time they were celebrating their first anniversary, Weave Your Own classes were also being offered. These classes are still available each Thursday and Saturday.
Now the product lineup offers something for everyone to be used in the kitchen, as home decor, or on the go. Looms, dish towels, mug cozies, mug rugs, purses and bags, and baby blankets are just some of the items visitors will find in the store. Bags are one of the newer items, first available for purchase a few months ago. “Handbags seemed like a natural extension of what we do. It took awhile to figure out the best way attach handles so that they are high quality and could stand lots of heavy use.” says Beryl Bartkus. Clutch purses, small messenger style purses, purse size totes, and large market bags are among the variety of styles available.
The newest items to be added are baby blankets, which debut this week. Currently blue colored blankets are available for purchase. Girl colors are coming soon. Bartkus continues to evaluate and think of new products her Weavers can make. New items give her employees new challenges and customers more reasons to stop in and look around. A selection of table runners and dish towels can also be found and purchased at Mi Hometown Furnishings.
Continuing to think of and make new products, Bartkus is already looking ahead to a fall reveal saying, “This news will be BIG! It will be so big that we needed to add an additional 50 inch 4 harness loom to make these cuddly products.”
Growth Beyond Products
Weavers work two shifts a week. Depending on need and ability, these shifts are 2-4 hours in duration. This past winter two males joined the group of previously all women team. A total of 10 employees are able to work and earn money thanks to Ability Weavers. But it’s not only about receiving a paycheck.
Weavers are able to have a meaningful job where they can learn skills often hard to come up due to their disabilities. They’re able to work in an encouraging environment, make and build friendships, and be challenged. Bartkus includes pushing her Weavers whenever possible. They’re taught how to make new products. There are also eight volunteers who help out in the store each week. It’s due to community support, hard-working employees and dedicated volunteers that Ability Weavers has been able to expand its line of products and hire additional Weavers.
This summer, another aspect was added to the store. Their first Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Occupational Therapy intern has been working at Ability Weavers to fulfill her community based fieldwork position. Bri Lambrix, who is studying to be an occupational therapist, is in her second year of grad school. This has been a win-win as they say for everyone involved.
Lambrix has been able to get to know Weavers and use the skills she is learning through her education. She has also been able to offer biomechanics ideas and suggestions on how to adapt the working areas of the store to better fit Weavers’ needs such as sitting as to not injure oneself and being cognizant of using both sides of the body.
“It’s different being in a non-traditional setting.” says Lambrix of her experience being at Ability Weavers once a week. Typically occupational therapists are found working on inpatient and outpatient therapy and rehabilitation, not in a location where individuals are already functioning on their own. The GVSU student will complete her classes in December. She has two internships beginning in 2019 and is scheduled to complete the graduate program next August. Lambrix’s internship will end the beginning of August. The end of that month until the beginning of December, a second intern will be helping and learning at the store.
With an increase in products and popularity, an additional day open for business has also been added. Starting in June, the store is now open on Wednesday as well.
Stop and Shop
Be sure to stop in this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday during Riverwalk, as Ability Weavers will be celebrating their second year in downtown Lowell. Treats, door prizes and entry for a Weave Your Own class giveaway will take place all three days. Cake will be available on Saturday following the Riverwalk parade.
Visit Ability Weavers as they take their products on the road this summer and fall. August 31 – September 1 they will be at The Found Cottage Mercantile Market in Holland. Stop by the Fallasburg Arts Festival to see what they have to offer on September 15 – 16. And in November they will be at Cornerstone University for the International Artisan Market.
Business hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm and Thursday 2pm-7pm. They are located at 215 W. Main Street. While looking around the store, Weavers are more than happy to show you what they are working on and even explain what it’s like working with a loom. Online shopping is also offered at the Ability Weavers website and their Etsy Shop. You can also keep up to date on what’s happening at their Facebook page.