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Everett salon owner Jessee Skittrall found out years ago that Absolut Vodka had a problem with the name of his business. (KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)

'Absolut' salon owner knew about trademark issue for years, but ignored it

When the owner of a small hair salon in Everett was ordered to change the name of his business due to a trademark claim by Vodka-giant Absolut, he appealed to the community for help.

"We reach out to you as our friends, fans and family," Jessee Skittrall wrote on a GoFundMe page, where he sought help to raise the $20,000 he said it would cost to change the name. "If you have the means to help this small business we would be ever so appreciative!"

Skittrall, who purchased Absolut Hair Salon on Beverly Boulevard from the previous owner in 2009, brought his fight to the media after he received a letter from legal counsel for Absolut, who stated that both the name of his salon and the signage violated their trademark. He said he was given until Jan. 1, 2014 to change the name, or face a lawsuit.

Skittrall said the notice he received in the mail, dated July 31, 2013, was the first he'd heard of any trademark issues with the salon.

"Absolut Hair and Makeup has been a part of the Everett community for over fifteen years and not once did we even think there could be a problem with the name," Skittrall said in an article posted on the salon's website. "The staff and I can't believe it and I am just devastated."

Skittrall was also invited onto KIRO Radio's Ron and Don Show to discuss his plight.

"It just seems stupid to come out of the middle of nowhere. And why us? Seriously. It's not like you can get some vodka at our place," he said. "I bought it [the salon] four years ago. It was recognized, so I didn't feel any need to change it. There hadn't been a problem, so there wasn't an issue."

It may be a story of David versus Goliath, but it didn't "come out of the middle of nowhere."

Skittrall failed to mention in those interviews that he'd known about the trademark issue for years and chose to ignore it.

On August 25, the previous owner of the salon, Gayle Pratt, wrote a short post on an opinion page in the Everett Herald that said Skittrall knew she had been contacted by Absolut Vodka in 2005.

In the fall of 2009, Jessee Skittrall and I entered into a sale purchase agreement for him to acquire ownership of Absolut Hair. As of this writing that process is not yet complete.

Prior to him entering into this agreement he did know that I had been contacted by attorneys representing Absolut Vodka!

Reached by phone at her home in Montrose, Colo., Pratt stood by what she wrote and said she believes Skitrall is trying to appear sympathetic in order to get customers in the door.

Texas-based Tito's Handmade Vodka has offered to help sponsor a "renaming party" for the salon on November 15, and the GoFundMe page for the business has raised $125 to date.

April Pierce, who worked at the salon when it was owned by Pratt, claimed to know that Skittrall had been given the letter that lawyers for Absolut sent in 2005 before he bought the salon.

"So, I think it's inappropriate to be asking the public for money for the salon," the 31-year-old Pierce told KIRO Radio late last month at her home in Snohomish. Two other previous employees confiremd her story.

Two other employees, who no longer work for the salon, confirmed the old owner's story.

KIRO Radio asked Skittrall last week about statements made by the previous owner and employees.

Skittrall denied that he had been informed of the issue before he bought the salon, but said he uncovered the 2005 letter from Absolut while moving his things into the salon's office four years ago.

"There was a file cabinet and I was cleaning out old papers and found a document from Absolut Vodka to the previous owner that said "cease and desist,'" he said. "And then there was a follow-up letter from her lawyer that basically said, 'We're not a threat, leave us alone.'"

When asked why he did not change the name when he first found out about the trademark claim in 2009, Skittrall said that he assumed it was no longer an issue since Absolut had not pursued the matter further in 2005.

"As a new business owner stepping into an existing business, the dumbest thing you could do was immediately change the name," he said.


Brandi Kruse, KIRO Radio Reporter
Brandi Kruse is a reporter for KIRO Radio who is as spontaneous and adventurous in her free time as she is on the job. Brandi arrived at KIRO Radio in March 2011 and has already collected three regional Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.
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