Pirate Joe’s fires back at U.S. chain’s lawsuit

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver | August 18, 2013 | Circulation: 251,700

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The owner of a Kitsilano store that re-sells groceries from U.S. chain Trader Joe’s has fired back in a legal battle with the American health food giant.

Michael Hallatt, owner of Pirate Joe’s, filed his defence this month after the retail chain sued him in Washington State. Hallatt said he has spent more than $350,000, and legally imported the groceries and re-sold them in his tiny Vancouver shop.

With no Trader Joe’s outlets in Canada, he insists his business poses no threat to the retailer. Some products — such as chocolate peanut butter truffles or stoned wheat thins — were even initially manufactured in Canada.

“Most people don’t care about the lawsuit,” he chuckles as he offers customers samples. “They care about whether I’ve got their cookie butter. Trader Joe’s is making that really hard.

“The value-added I’m providing is just a different way of accessing these products for Canadians than getting in your hot car with a bunch of screaming kids.”

Hallatt maintains that since he bought the products, no one can stop him from selling them to hungry customers.

“I bought it,” he chuckles. “I can do whatever I want with it.

“All I’m doing is putting it on some cedar shelves, opening on 4th Avenue, and playing some jazz in the background. We try to help people find stuff they’re looking for.”

For one Kitsilano regular, the lawsuit is a case of David versus Goliath.

“It’s just another company being a big bully,” said Barbara, who wouldn’t give her last name. “This little shop is great.

“I wouldn’t be prepared to go to the States to buy these things; it’s so convenient having everything here. He’s not undercutting them.”

Vancouver business lawyer Timothy Murphy told 24 Hours it’s telling the case wasn’t filed in Canada. To do so, Trader Joe’s would need to prove they sold products here — and also that customers might confuse the two companies.

“Based on the fact that Pirate Joe’s appears to publicly disclaim any affiliation with Trader Joe’s, (that) could be difficult to prove,” Murphy said.

But just being in the legal right can’t predict the outcome.

“In commercial disputes, David does not always beat Goliath,” Murphy warned. “In fact, it is usually the opposite. Trader Joe’s clearly has deeper pockets than Pirate Joe’s.”

Trader Joe’s did not return a request for comment.

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