Canadian fans of Trader Joe’s will now have to suck it up and go to the States, or just buy the stuff on Amazon. A Vancouver store that resold the American chain’s products has closed its doors.
“If you just so happen to be a millionaire and have $50,000 available to donate to us to stand up to Trader Joe’s in federal court, please call immediately,” Pirate Joe’s owner Michael Hallatt wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
“Otherwise, please head in today to grab your TJ's loot, because we will likely be closing for good at the end of the day today.”
Hallatt, a Trader Joe's admirer himself, opened his store in 2012.
Since then, he and shoppers he calls "cats" have been travelling south of the border to pick up products at stores.
He then resells them at a markup, according to the website. This is to pay rent and staff, as well as a label supplier so they can re-label all the products with Canadian ingredient and nutrition labels.
But he’s been in a long legal fight with the grocery store chain. It first sued him in 2013 over, among other things, federal trademark infringement and unfair competition. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. federal court in Washington state.
"We're agreeing to disagree on the merits of the case."
It was later dismissed by a judge, who ruled that it didn’t apply to laws in the country and didn't affect the U.S. economy.
"If we were going to trial, it would be just prohibitively expensive for me," he told CTV Vancouver. A crowdfunding campaign to cover legal costs came up far short of its $50,000 goal. So he has come to an agreement with Trader Joe’s and is shutting down his store.
But he maintained to CTV that he’s allowed to resell Trader Joe's copyrighted products, under an American legal principle called the first sale doctrine.
“We're agreeing to disagree on the merits of the case,” he said.
Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman argued on the Freakonomics blog that American trademark law doesn’t give trademark holders control over anyone who resells their items, as long as those items aren’t altered in any way.
"PJ’s doesn’t do anything to the TJ’s products other than truck them across the border in a white panel van," they wrote.
"If TJ’s has the right to stop PJ’s from reselling their products, then any trademark owner might assert a similar right. Ford could sue Carmax (a U.S. user-car retailer) for reselling Fords."
Hallatt told The Canadian Press in 2013 that he’d shut down his business if Trader Joe’s came to Canada.
"We'd prefer it if they just opened in Vancouver, put everybody out of their misery," he said.
"But you know, in the meantime, I'm here to supply Vancouverites with products that they're asking me to bring in."
Hey Trader Joe’s, how about that? Canadians will buy your peanut butter pretzels.
Also on HuffPost