The owner of Pirate Joe's, a popular destination convenience store in Vancouver, is fed up that U.S. retailer Trader Joe's won't drop a lawsuit against the unsanctioned Canadian reseller.
Michael Hallatt insists he is still a huge fan of Trader Joe's, which inspires cult-like loyalty from some customers, but he's irate that the corporate heads of the company are trying to shut down his Kitsilano store.
Trader Joe's has 390 stores in 30 U.S. states, but not one outlet in Canada, where many die-hard fans live. So, for the past year and a half, Hallatt has been crossing the border to buy products from the American retail chain, which he then brings back to resell in Vancouver at his "Pirate Joe's" store.
"There's a great opportunity to provide a service for Vancouverites," he said.
Hallatt said he has been spending around $4,000 to $5,000 a week at Trader Joe's in Bellingham, Wash., which amounts to around $350,000 in total since he began the grub-running in January 2012.
He was on the corporate radar a few months after his cross-border venture began, but it wasn't until May this year that Trader Joe's filed a lawsuit in Washington State Federal Court. The complaint alleges federal trademark infringement, false endorsement, and false advertising, and argues that Pirate Joe's is a threat to the reputation of the Trader Joe's brand.
Hallatt's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, but so far it appears the suit is proceeding.
"I can't stress this enough: there's a behaviour at the store level and there's a corporate behaviour," Hallatt told CBC News. "The stores are awesome, they are helpful, they get me stuff, they are fantastic."
Hallatt said he has also been banned from Trader Joe's stores, and that the company went to the trouble of sending his photo around to individual stores to enforce the ban. But even that countermeasure hasn't stopped the entrepreneur.
"I am hiring people to shop for me to keep the store open," Hallatt said.
Hallatt says he has a legal right to sell the products, and that he's going to stick around and fight.
"I'm not going to quit," he said.
CBC News contacted Trader Joe's but the company would not comment on the lawsuit.