The Painted Pot, a pottery workshop that holds classes for kids and adults, is a local favorite in Brooklyn but last week it became embroiled in a COVID-related controversy and accused of antisemitism.
It all started after Lisa Mendoza sent out an email to customers, asking anyone who lives in zip codes with alarming number of new coronavirus cases to not enter the studio. Mendoza said she took the information directly from the city and wanted to keep those with pre-existing conditions safe from the virus.
"We’re being accused of discrimination which is absolutely not our intent," said Mendoza. "The fear was my staff getting ill. We all have compromised immune systems, asthma, cancer, unfortunately, MS.”
But because many of those affected zip codes include the orthodox Jewish community, Mendoza received messages accusing her of discrimination. One message said, "Your COVID policy is discriminatory and reminiscent of Nazi Germany...Show your ID? Are you kidding me? As a Jew, I am extremely offended.”
The backlash was swift, with some customers promising never to return and some comparing Mendoza to Adolf Hitler. She had to turn off the phones and issue an immediate apology.
"We have rescinded our policy which was not the right choice," Mendoza admitted.
She says she never meant to single out anyone from the Jewish community and now she is back to offering in-person painting to all customers. But Mendoza says she is still afraid of people who aren't wearing masks or aren't wearing them properly.
"It’s a challenge to remind our customers to keep pulling the mask up," she said.
Like many small businesses, The Painted Pot's financial health is also compromised. With $90,000 owed in back rent, more restrictions around the neighborhood could close the business for good.
"That’s why we made the decision that we made. It was based on fear and lack of leadership and I take it back."