The company behind the iconic Red Wing Stoneware jug said it plans to shut down its salesroom next month due to harassment and threats against the owner’s family. Bruce Johnson, the owner of Red Wing Stoneware & Pottery, said an ongoing trademark dispute and lingering tensions from a 1967 labor strike against the previous owner of the business created a hostile environment.
“We’ve had all kinds of crazy things happen to us,” said Johnson, saying he’s been made to feel unwelcome by the city leadership, business community and tourism groups.
The news comes two years after Johnson and his wife bought the business and despite what Johnson characterized as a profitable year of sales. Johnson said his family plans to continue making some products for Red Wing Stoneware and Red Wing Pottery, but the 19,000-square-foot salesroom on West Main Street that opened in the 1950s on the site of the original Red Wing Stoneware company will close Dec. 24.
“It breaks my heart,” he said.
Johnson said that over the past year he had notified city officials and the Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau about his struggles.
A threat to his family made to his face referenced the 1967 strike, he said. He’s had people walk into the business and tell him he doesn’t have the right to own it, he added.
“My family’s been under too much pressure,” he said. “We just can’t take the impact on the family.”
He filed suit against the Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation earlier this year over the group’s use of an insignia that Johnson alleged is the company’s trademark. The picture of a red wing is stamped on Red Wing Stoneware jugs, and a similar-looking wing is used by the foundation. A foundation spokesman was not immediately available Wednesday.
“We would never have anticipated the hatred and anger we have faced in this community over trying to revive this great business, even with its iconic name and brand,” Johnson wrote in a statement posted on the company’s website.
“There’s a lot of people in this city who have no ties to the lawsuit that clearly they do not want our business in business,” he said. He will keep the smaller production facilities and look to do wholesaling and work with large customers across the country, he said. A coffee shop and classroom will close, along with a Minnesota store called Loons and Lady Slippers. He plans to lease, auction or sell off the businesses and equipment.
Johnson said he and his family will probably move away from Red Wing because, despite the friendships they’ve made with a lot of town residents, “the people in power in this town don’t want us.”
“It goes back to that strike,” he said. “There was so much violence and anger in the community.”
He’s not giving up the names or the brands, for which he “paid dearly,” he said.
Patty Brown, executive director of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce, was shocked by the closure.
“Any loss of a business in our community we are saddened about,” she said Wednesday evening. “But especially one like this.”