US & Canada

Canada's Trader Joe's reseller Pirate Joe's shuts down for good

Pirate Joe's

A Canadian store devoted to reselling Trader Joe's products north of the border has shut its doors for good.

Pirate Joe's was popular with Vancouver locals who wanted to get their hands on fancy foods from the American alternative grocer.

But Trader Joe's sued Pirate Joe's owner Mike Hallatt in 2013, citing trademark infringement.

With legal costs mounting, the store closed on Wednesday at midnight after five years.

Mr Hallatt says it's finally time to put away his vanilla meringues.

"I had to face the music," he told CTV. "I got myself into this, so I had to get myself out of it."

Trader Joe's declined to comment on what this means for their lawsuit.

Mr Hallatt has always maintained that his store was legal under the US concept of "first sale doctrine", but he says that he just can't afford a drawn-out court battle with a corporate giant.

Mr Hallatt's business model was unorthodox. Like some kind of Prohibition rumrunner, he would cross the border into the US, stock up on Trader Joes goodies and bring them back to Canada, where he sold them - at a mark up - from a small storefront under the name of Pirate Joe's.

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But it wasn't liquor Mr Hallatt was smuggling - it was dark-chocolate peanut butter cups, triple-ginger snaps and sweet-apple sausage. Once Trader Joe's caught wind of his scheme, they banned him from shopping, so he had to recruit others to make grocery runs for him.

"I would love for Trader Joe's to open up in Canada so they could put me out of my misery", Mr Hallatt told the BBC earlier this year.

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Media caption'Pirate Joe' smuggles fancy foods into Canada

The grocery store sued him in 2013, arguing that his business was infringing on their trademark and hurting their brand. That suit was dismissed by a Washington-state court because the alleged infringement did not occur in the US, and because Trader Joe's couldn't prove economic hardship, given all the items were bought at full price.

But in 2016 a US court of appeal overturned the dismissal, and Mr Hallatt has been embroiled in the renewed legal battle ever since.

"This is completely legal, there is no doubt anyone's mind, it's a question of brand control," Mr Hallatt told the BBC.

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