by Jason Snell
The cross-border appeal of Trader Joe’s
Here’s a fascinating commerce-as-culture story from Christopher Mele at the New York Times:
Pirate Joe’s, which for more than five years celebrated its status as an unauthorized importer of Trader Joe’s products with a blend of cheeky humor and David-versus-Goliath determination, closed its doors at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after a protracted legal battle with the American corporation.
Trader Joe’s is resolutely an American store, apparently, despite being owned by Germans. For non-Americans, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that’s largely populated by store brands (rather than name-brand products), with good prices and frequently good quality. My family doesn’t do more than a fraction of our shopping at Trader Joe’s, but there are many items in our pantry that we only buy from Trader Joe’s.
I just love the idea that some dude in Vancouver loved Trader Joe’s so much that he set up a store and began reselling items bought across the border in Washington, like a reverse-bootlegger from the era of prohibition.
He would fill a cart with the items he needed and then have companions pay at the cashier — the most sensitive part of the expedition because it was where he most risked being spotted. In ads on Craigslist, Mr. Hallatt recruited “day laborers” for $25 an hour.
Alas, Pirate Joe’s is now dead. And while Trader Joe’s should probably consider expanding into Canada, Target remains an object lession in major American stores failing in the Great White North.