Bharwinder Singh was a boy in the town of Jalandhar, not far from the Pakistan border in northern India, when his father came to America for work in the 1980s.
According to Singh, his father worked long hours as a trucker in California. Not long after his father arrived in the U.S., Singh and his mother followed. But she died not long after, and Singh’s father couldn’t care for him because of the hours he worked.
So Singh’s father sent him back to India to live with his family until he was an adult, Singh said.
“He took me back to India and said, ‘You stay here. When you grow up, you can come back here,'” Singh, 45, said.
So he did. Now he owns the Amboy Market, which he bought in 2015 for $565,000, according to Clark County Property records.
The small market is one of the few places in North Clark County to buy fresh produce in the little town with fewer than 2,000 people, according to Census data.
During the pandemic, it’s been tough as it has been at many grocery stores; mask enforcement is challenging.
One recent reviewer on the store’s Facebook page complained of unmasked customers and even a maskless employee, but Singh says he makes his employees wear masks. On the other hand, it has been difficult with patrons. Singh says now he just “walks away” rather than arguing. Store employees across the nation have been assaulted for trying to enforce mask mandates.
“I had a policeman over here the other day about masks. They said I don’t have authority to force people to do that. I have signs everywhere; some people adhere to it. Some people don’t. That’s all I can say,” Singh said.
Most of the time, it’s peaceful, he said.
“I like to fill up coolers and work the cashier and talk to people. It makes me feel good. People are so friendly over here; it’s a nice area. Nobody bothers you and people are honest,” he said. “One thing I really like, on Sunday everybody goes to church. Afterward they come into the store and bring children to buy candy. They bring the whole family.”
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
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The Columbian caught up with Singh to learn more.
Tell me about yourself.
I was born in India — in Punjab. My father moved to California, in Fresno. My mother died. After six months, there was nobody here to look after me. I went to India again. My dad was driving a truck at that time and he did long hauls. He had to go to work. In India I have my aunt, uncle, grandfather. Everybody was there, it was easy for me to live there. I went back to school. I stayed with her for another seven years. When I was 18 or 19 years old, I came back. Here is more opportunity. There they farm – I didn’t want to do farming. Over there it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you’re still poor. Here there is good opportunity; the situation over there is very bad. It’s hard to survive over there.
Do you still have family in India? Have they been impacted by the pandemic?
Yeah, I talk with them sometimes, like once a month. They (haven’t gotten COVID-19) because they live in a small village like Amboy. Almost five years ago I saw them last.
Have you wanted to visit them?
That’s a problem; last year I had a plan to go there to see them but I can’t because I can’t travel and nobody can go there. I don’t want to go there and just get sick. When everything is OK, I can go maybe next year. It’s very difficult.
How did you come to work at Amboy Market?
Sometimes I would go to the lake, and I saw the market. Before that I used to have a trucking company. Sometimes when I had a day off I’d go there. I saw it was doing good so I just bought it.
What exactly do you do at the market?
I take care of the store. If someone needs help, I help. I learned from scratch. Yesterday, no one was there, so I did the cashier job and some produce and cooler stocking.
How has your job been impacted by the pandemic?
I really am tired when I have a face mask — I can’t breathe properly. When you have to grab a 40-pound bag, you have to really breathe hard. I used to shake people’s hands, now I don’t touch people. Now I can’t see if somebody is smiling or not because of face masks. There is a 6-foot regulation for everybody. I have to mark so people can’t walk close by each other. Sometimes we have to tell people to wear a mask. Some people are less friendly and say, “Why are you forcing me?” But usually people are friendly. When you force somebody, sometimes people get angry. Then I just walk away from that situation.
What are some of your hopes for the future?
I would like to expand. I am looking for another store. If I find a good location, I’m going to buy it. I’m working on putting in a gas station. Hopefully in one year.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about what you do?
I like to work as a cashier, so you can see all the people come in. They know you – they say hi and I really like that. After a while, people know you, and it feels like a family.