Trader Joe's products have a cult following, but not everyone lives close enough to a store to get its Organic Hummus Dip whenever they want. So Vancouver entrepreneur Michael Hallatt had the bright idea to open his own business as a Trader Joe's fixer in Vancouver, where there are no Trader Joe's stores.
Operating out of a store called Pirate Joe's, Hallatt resells Trader Joe's goods that he drives to Washington to acquire. Hallatt says he is breaking no American or Canadian laws in doing so, as he is allowed to purchase and resell trademarked products as long as they are sold without material change, according to ABC News.
Hallett's prices are "slightly higher than the retail price he paid for them in order to defray the transportation and labor expense, overhead and to permit a modest profit," he says.
But Trader Joe's has decided they do not like this one bit and are suing to get the little import shop shut down. Trader Joe's has cited trademark infringement, false endorsement, and false advertising, among other charges. The company says Hallett has harmed its Washington stores with his operation, though Hallett has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at them since beginning his bootlegging operation.
"Trader Joe's thinks Canadians are too ignorant not to tell the difference between the empire and my little shop on Fourth Avenue," Hallett said.
Hallett considered bowing to Trader Joe's legal pressure because he couldn’t afford to fight the chain in court, but his business insurance decided to back him in the fight, and now Hallett is countersuing for discrimination on the grounds that Trader Joe's told its managers not to sell to him.
"The purpose of Hallatt's business, known as Pirate Joe's, is to provide a convenience to Canadians who wish to purchase Trader Joe's branded products but would prefer to avoid the time, trouble, and expense of traveling to the United States and returning to Canada through border security checkpoints and Canadian customs," Hallett's countersuit says.
"If Trader Joe's really was a person," Hallet said, "he'd be cool with this."