RED WING, Minn. – Recalling the hatred of the 1967 strike that shook Red Wing Pottery to its core, current Red Wing Pottery owner Bruce Johnson said mounting stress and pressure have taken their toll. He stunned the community Tuesday afternoon with his announcement that the Pottery Salesroom mall will close Christmas Eve.

“A big part of the announcement puts the focus of this, I think, squarely in the hands of the anger and resentment this city has had to this business since 1967,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

He and his wife, Irene, purchased Red Wing Stoneware, a separate company, two years ago. Shortly thereafter, the Gillmer family announced it would close the Red Wing Pottery Salesroom if a buyer couldn’t be found. Within a few weeks the Johnsons owned both companies.

“That’s a blow,” Council member Peggy Rehder said when told about the pending closure. She added that the council, which met Monday night, had no idea anything like this was coming.

Patty Brown, Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce president, said she was heart sick upon hearing the news.

“We hate to hear of a loss of any Red Wing business, but especially one with this rich history and has been so iconic in our community,” she said.

Johnson said he and his wife are not halting their legal battle, a trademark infringement lawsuit they filed in March against Pottery Museum of Red Wing and set for trial the fall of 2016. The dispute is over the “red wing” that has graced pottery almost since people began making pots, crocks and sewer pipes more than 100 years ago. The closure also does not affect Red Wing Stoneware on Highway 61.

“No changes whatsoever,” Johnson said. “We’re defending our brands and we will continue to defend them.”

The decision to close did not come as a result of bad business, Johnson stressed.

“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 said in a statement. “We are worn out, stressed out, and exhausted from being bullied by a small portion of the business community that seems to have incredible power in this city.”

The shelves at 1920 Old West Main St. will not be restocked and after Dec. 24, the property will be sold, auctioned or leased, Johnson said. The closing of the Pottery Salesroom also means production will cease.

“This is it for the salt glaze pottery in Red Wing,” he said.

Red Wing Stoneware will continue to operate as it has, Johnson said, producing both traditional stoneware and pottery products as well as continuing with new ventures. On the horizon, however, some bigger decisions need to be made, he said.

“I’ve entertained moving it out of state,” Johnson said. “If people want to make our lives miserable and drive us out of town, they’ll drive us out of town.”

Johnson, in the only public statement released since the lawsuit was filed, expanded on some of what led to his family’s decision.

“We have been under incredible stress and pressure from the lawsuit that is going on, threats that have been made against our business and family,” Johnson wrote in the statement. “We have received continuous harassment in public and at our store, as well as our employees have received in public. We have felt threatened and certainly not welcome by the business community in Red Wing, city leadership, and tourism groups.”

According to Red Wing police, the only documented incident involving Red Wing Pottery was a report of vandalism – spray paint on the side of the building – in September.

Johnson contends the business has the potential for radical growth and expansion, but he won’t entertain anything of the sort until he knows his family and employees are safe. As of now, he said, close to 15 people are employed at the Pottery Showroom.

“It’s terrible to have to let go this many jobs, but we have no choice,” he said.

Ultimately, Johnson said, the family’s goal was to revive the business for the community, the people and the employees.

“Wouldn’t we all love to have something to cheer about, have something to root on, make it part of our culture again,” Johnson asked. “We always felt like we had that and we could do that. It breaks my heart.”

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