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Coffee shop owners forgive teens who graffitied fence, let them paint over it

After seeing the coffee shop's post on Facebook, the teens apologized and volunteered to repaint the fence.
Fence with graffiti on it
"Friends, we have all made mistakes," wrote coffee shop owner Alaina Schwartz. "It takes a huge amount of bravery to then ask another for forgiveness."TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Alaina Schwartz

Coffee shop owners Alaina and Keith Schwartz are going viral for their positive response to graffiti spray-painted on their establishment in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alaina Schwartz told TODAY Food that she and her son spotted the graffiti, which was painted on a fence surrounding the coffee shop's dumpster, as they pulled up to Caliber Coffee Co. on Saturday morning.

Fence with graffiti on it
Coffee shop co-owner Alaina Schwartz noticed the graffiti near the dumpsters on Saturday morning. Courtesy Alaina Schwartz

"My son who's six was like, 'They did a bad thing. You can't do that,'" Schwartz recalled. However, she and her husband were determined to turn a negative into a positive: After looking at the security footage and confirming that the graffiti was spray-painted by some teenagers, they put out a call on Facebook asking local muralists if they'd be interested in painting over the graffitied area.

Fence with graffiti on it
The graffiti included initials and illustrations painted on a fence. Courtesy Alaina Schwartz

"I was like, 'How can we spin this to make it something positive?'" said Schwartz. "We were like, let's make this great … I was like, 'Hey, Nashville artists, we're looking for a mural, we had people attempt to do a mural last night, we're looking for something a little bit different.'"

Schwartz said that she was looking for a "positive or uplifting" piece of art, but the post led to an even more surprising turn of events.

"The next day, those boys came into our shop," said Schwartz. "They came up and they're like, 'Can I speak to the manager?' And my husband, who's up there, was like, 'Yeah, that's me,' and they're like, 'Can we speak privately?' And they look terrified. Super, super scared. They were like, 'We're so sorry.'"

Schwartz said her husband reassured the boys, telling them that it "wasn't a great choice" but reminding them that "we've all made mistakes."

"My husband's like … 'We've all been there, we've all done something we shouldn't have. Thank you for coming in and apologizing.' We were absolutely shocked that they came back," Schwartz said. "And then the boys offered to … make it right. They were like, 'What can we do, can we paint over it?' (My husband) was like, 'If you want to, you don't have to.' And so they came back and repainted over it. It was amazing."

Fence with graffiti on it
The teens who had graffitied the fence painted over the damaged areas after apologizing. Courtesy Alaina Schwartz

Schwartz said she shared the story on social media to put out a message of positivity and grace, but was shocked by the online response.

"We were completely floored. We're just a little mom-and-pop coffee shop … So it was really incredible to see that people responded well," she said. "We want to be able to give second chances and celebrate people being brave and coming forward and saying, 'Hey, I've made a mistake.' For us to have that opportunity to extend grace and mercy that we've all needed at different points in our lives for different things is a really great opportunity for us as parents to show our own children, 'Hey, you're going to make mistakes, and it's OK.'"

While the graffiti has been painted over, Schwartz said she and her husband are still looking to find a local artist to paint a mural on one of the business' walls. The pair is also going to add a new fence to their property so that they can work with a charitable organization, Shower the People, a Nashville group who has outfitted a bus with showers and laundry supplies for unhoused people in the city.

"We're going to be partnering with them and adding a fence to the back of our building so that we can offer hygiene kits that will just hang on that fence for anybody to pick up and have what they need," Schwartz said. "And that connection only happened because they saw (our post). These are little connections that are going to make a huge difference. It has absolutely nothing to do with us as a business, but we really believe that we should be not only a business but constantly try to reach out and empower and uplift others."