The Man Behind Canada’s Black Market Trader Joe’s

By Mike Pomranz |

© Mira / Alamy

As an American, you probably take Trader Joe’s for granted. The quirky grocery store chain has more than 400 locations, covering 39 states and the District of Columbia. But they have no international locations—not even in our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada.

One self-professed Trader Joe’s tamale junkie who got hooked on the stuff while living in San Francisco has tried to single-handedly rectify that situation. Mike Hallatt runs Pirate Joe’s, an independent reseller of Trader Joe’s products in Vancouver. With a team of shoppers, his business travels around to Trader Joe’s across the border in Washington, buying up products and bringing them back into Canada. And it’s completely legal. In fact, Trader Joe’s lost a lawsuit against him. (They are currently appealing.)

“If you own something, you're legally entitled to do anything you want with it, including selling it to your friends in Canada," Hallatt told CBS News, which profiled him earlier this month. In one line of questioning, CBS asked about Hallatt’s process: Turns out he pays duties on all the items he brings into Canada and only sells official Trader Joe’s products, no knock-offs. Since Hallatt does everything above board, his store is totally legit. And though Trader Joe’s may feel slighted, they’re reaping the benefits as well. Hallatt estimates he has spent about $800,000 at his favorite grocery store.

And Hallatt claims that though he makes a living off his pirate store, the reasoning behind his operation has nothing to do with making money and everything to do with spreading the joy of kale chips and chocolate and sea salt-covered almonds. Asked when he would ever shut down his store, Hallatt replied, “If Trader Joe’s opened in Vancouver. And happily do so.”

Pirate Joe’s has been in operation since 2012. And with no Vancouver Trader Joe’s on the horizon, Hallatt doesn’t seem to be looking to shut down anytime soon. His message for the powers that be at his store’s supplier: “I'm really sorry. But we have to do this…. You're just too far away from us. So we're just gonna take matters into our own hands.” Then he adds, “Please open in Vancouver.”

[h/t First We Feast]

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