Guss' Pickles - The Villager, 08/01/2007

On July 16, Andrew Leibowitz of the United Pickle empire and Patricia Fairhurst, owner of Orchard St.’s Guss’ Pickles, met to mediate their longstanding conflict over the city’s most coveted cucumbers. Both claim legal ownership of the 87-year-old Guss’ Pickles brand.

Stephen Leibowitz, the self-dubbed “Chairperson Pickle Maven” of United Pickle, expressed confidence that “things are going to be resolved” between his son, Andrew, and Fairhurst. But the owner of the tiny shop at 85 Orchard St. says she isn’t making any compromises.

“I’m not settling. Definitely not,” said Fairhurst. “I am Guss’ Pickles.”

Guss’ Pickles was established by Izzy Guss, a Russian immigrant, who arrived in the U.S. in 1910. Like many Eastern European newcomers, Guss lived in the Lower East Side’s tenements and sold pickles from a rented pushcart. Eventually, Guss saved up enough money to open his own store on Hester St., where he sold his wares from storefront barrels.

He also developed a business relationship with the Leibowitz family of United Pickle, buying his pickles from them. United Pickle is now the largest pickle wholesaler on the East Coast.

When Guss’ first opened, it was one of 80 pickle purveyors in the neighborhood. Now it’s the only one of the original Lower East Side pickle stores left.

Fairhurst mans her barrels in front of 85 Orchard St. six days a week.

When Guss died in 1975, his family sold the business to Harry Baker, who then passed it down to his son, Tim. In 2004, Tim sold the store at 85 Orchard St. to Fairhurst.

Stephen Leibowitz claims that his son, Andrew, purchased the Guss’ trademark from Baker in 2002. When Fairhurst acquired the store at 85 Orchard St. two years later, she “bought a lease, not a business,” he says.

Like the Bakers before her, Fairhurst continued to buy her pickles from United Pickle, but she says she improved them by using Guss’ signature recipes.

But Fairhurst discovered that Leibowitz had opened up a Gus’s Pickles (different spelling) store in Cedarhurst in Nassau County and charges he was using her business to promote it. Shortly thereafter, she claims she received a letter from Stephen Leibowitz informing her that she could no longer use the Guss’ label.

Outraged, she informed Leibowitz that she was going to switch pickle suppliers and was again told to stop using the trademark.

“He figured because I’m a woman and it’s just me and my son, I wouldn’t know the law. He figured that I couldn’t afford a lawyer,” said Fairhurst.

Fairhurst sued Andrew Leibowitz and his Crossing Delancey Pickle Enterprises Corporation in October 2006, and was then countersued.
“We’ve been selling the original Guss’ Pickles for almost 90 years,” said Stephen Leibowitz. “My son bought the trademark five years ago — she’s been infringing on us.”

On Mon., July 30, the Leibowitzes delivered the confidential terms of the settlement to Fairhurst.

Among other stipulations, the document states that were she to settle with Crossing Delancey Pickle, the corporation would allow her to use the trade name and trademark Guss’/Guss’ Pickles with the Orchard St. store, on the condition that she agree to purchase her pickles from wholesaler United Pickle and other foodstuffs from approved suppliers Cosmo and Paradise.

Under the settlement, while Crossing Delancey Pickle would refer to the Lower East Side store in its advertisements, Fairhurst would be obligated to promote the Leibowitz corporation to purchasers. She would also be forbidden to “interfere with or disparage the pickles” she bought from United Pickle.

She would have to agree to dismiss the claims and counterclaims involved in the suit and withdraw her challenge to the Guss’ Pickles trademark. Despite her responsibilities to Crossing Delancey Pickle, Fairhurst’s World Famous Pickle Corporation would be responsible for its “own debts, obligations and liabilities.”

Having read the document, Fairhurst is even more determined to take the case to court.

“They have nerve to even show this to us,” she said of the settlement. She said she believes the court date will be sometime in September.

As the controversy drags on, fans of the Lower East Side Guss’ Pickles are remaining loyal to the Orchard St. store.

“Why would you go anywhere else?” said Heidi Doherty, a Cape Cod resident who makes sure to stop at Guss’ whenever she’s in the city. “The product’s great, the history’s here,” she said while perusing the Guss’ pickle barrels this week.

She then turned to Fairhurst’s son, Roger, and ordered four quarts of full sours.