“Every time I walk into the store — I feel like a millionaire.”Brandon Hahn
You always know where to find him — 509 Broadway St. He’s the funny and friendly store owner of Petro Canada whose charming smile has never changed over the years.
Harnek Grewal, 40, of Tillsonburg, is a busy man. He and his wife, Prinkle Grewal, are the only two who run the store. That gives them quite a busy life — which doesn’t leave much room for free time.
“I get up pretty much at one o’clock in the afternoon every day … I get up, (go to) work by 1:30-2 o’clock and work all day,” said Grewal.
He said he usually finishes closing the store by 1 a.m. Then he’ll chat with his friends back in India and some nights, he’ll have to do some extra work.
“Last night, I had to repair something in the car wash, and I went home around 3:30, quarter to four in the morning. So I just work, work, work,” he said, referring to the fact he has next to no leisure time.
He hopes one day he can take a break from the store.
“When the kids are old enough, if I’m lucky, they might take over here and then maybe me and my wife can take some time off and go for adventures, discover the world or something like that.”
Grewal and his wife have two sons and a daughter — Shiv, 5, Gobind, 4, and Om, 1.
Grewal said he wants to see the whole world, but firstly and most importantly, he wants to go home to India.
Many local residents have said Grewal has impacted their lives in many different ways — especially for the better.
“My husband and I first met Harnek, I believe in 2012,” said Jessica Christo of Norwich. “He didn’t have any family here yet. I think he had just started up the store and we became friends with him right away.”
One night, in December 2012, Grewal was all alone working on his birthday. Christo and her husband, Brandon Hahn, found him sitting in his store all alone celebrating his birthday with a candle stuck into a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. He was talking to his family back home over video. They decided to surprise him by bringing him a cake and celebrating with him.
Hahn said in the comments of his video and told viewers how Grewal makes him feel every time he visited him.
“Every time I walk into the store, I feel like a millionaire. He treats me and everyone so well. If you’re from Tillsonburg, you know how well he treats his customers, he is the man! I love this guy and I did not post the video for me, but for him. I want him to know he is loved by the community and the way he treats everyone in town,” he said.
Christo said her husband passed away in 2013 and Grewal attended his funeral, posted her husband’s obituary in the store and told many of his customers about him.
“I go there multiple times a week and he always asks how things are and shows genuine interest in people’s lives. He knows all his customers by name and everything they like. We may have originally friended him but he truly is the one who impacted our lives with the kind of man he is and his wife as well,” she said.
This isn’t the only time someone has felt this way about Grewal.
“I would say that Harnek has made me a better person,” said Summer Bossence of Tillsonburg. “He and I started becoming close last year. I would always enjoy his upbeat attitude towards his customers who use his station. His attitude has made me want to come to him every day, not just to fill my tank, but to take a chair and sit with him for hours on end no matter the time of day and talk about all the problems I was facing.”
Bossence said Grewal always helped her handle bad situations and give her the best possible outcome imaginable and has helped her be her best possible self. She said on days that she was sick, he would give her anything she needed for free.
“His kindness had not only impacted me but a majority of people in Tillsonburg. His attitude has not only shaped myself into who I am today but be a better person for the people in our community,” she said.
You may wonder, where does Grewal get all his positivity from?
It’s because of the way he lives his life and the things he believes in. He never worried about figuring out what he was going to do with his life — life told him what to do.
“In my life, I never planned anything. It just happened, I just went with the flow all my life. I never decided to do this, do that, or get that,” said Grewal.
He said his first job growing up was as an automotive electrician fixing alternators, batteries — you name it.
“My boss was a poor man, but he was a good man … I worked for three years for him, 9 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the evening, but I never took money from him,” he said.
The first day he came to Canada, he ate, went straight to bed and went to work the next morning. It goes to show his work ethic has always been the same, and he said he gets it from his father.
Grewal said he is most proud of his parents.
“They worked so hard in their lives to make our life easy and they did a good job. I tried to follow my father,” he said.
He mentioned that his father was offered bribes a few times while working back home for the government.
“Back in India, corruption is a big thing. He was kind of an officer. He used to sign the contracts for road development. People used to come in and try to give him money under the table so that they could get the contract,” said Grewal.
He said his dad never took a single bribe — ever. This is because he believes in karma, you know — “what goes around comes around.”
While Grewal is a hard worker, he also doesn’t put up with anyone’s nonsense, especially thieves. When kids steal from his store he’ll call them out on it and tell them to put it back. When adults steal, he doesn’t tolerate it.
One time, Grewal said he had a lady steal three lighters from him — each one being worth $10.
“I went out to the car, and I’m like ‘well, you keep those lighters, but just give me $60.’”
“She tried to give me the lighters back. I said ‘no you keep the lighters.’”
The woman said back to him, “I’m not paying $20 for each lighter!” He then said, “They were $10 if you were buying, but you stole them, so they’re $20 each. You have to pay or I have no option but to call the police.”
“She paid me $60, I didn’t call the police, she’s happy, I’m happy.”
Few people know that Grewal is religious, but not a typical sect of religion — he’s more of a spiritual person.
He looks at religion differently than most in a way most religious people would scoff at.
“Religion is religion.”
Grewal said he believes Christian, Muslim, Sikh and other groups aren’t exactly religion.
“No, these are sects, these are communities. Religion is something different,” he said.
He talked about how religion was made from two different words: “Religare,” which means to bind, and “religio,” which means obligation, bond and reverence.
These two words, according to Google, formed into the common word we use today — religion, which is defined as “life under monastic vows.”
How he described it was, religion means to unite, or to get together, to unite with God. He said some people dismiss other people’s beliefs if they don’t belong to their said sect of religion. In Grewal’s words, “That means he is very far from religion.”
“All these saints, they came at different times, different ages, at different time zones (or era). They all talked about God, they all talked about his teachings, about love, about not hurting anybody.”
“So the teachings were pretty simple, but these days if you are saying ‘what I believe, that is right, what you believe is wrong.’ — No, you are wrong, first, you need to be human.”
For Grewal, life is about being kind, generous and caring. Happiness to him is, “To make someone else happy.”
At the end of his life, he said he wants to be remembered as the person who, “Did right to right, and wrong to wrong. People who treat me like s***, I treat them like s***, people who treat me good, I treat them the best,” he said.
“Tit for tat.”