The Man Behind the Counter, Vaadat Sirk: Smith Corner Store Owner

Mia Council '16 Features Editor

Until December 2010, Vaadat Sirk lived in Pakistan with his wife and children and worked as a banker for CitiBank. Earlier that summer, there was a “big terrorist attack on [their] mosque during Friday prayer, and at that time, including five of my blood relation family members, they killed 97 people,” Sirk said.  The tragedy led him to move to the United States, and the ex-banker is now known to Smith students as the owner of the Smith Corner Convenience Plus store.  Sirk, a neat man with pepper-and-salt hair, chose Western Massachusetts because his in-laws already lived in the area.

Though he initially owned a convenience store in Chicopee, Sirk considers Northampton safer.  “It’s much better because within two and a half years, there were two very bad things that happened at my store [in Chicopee]. A gunman came and he took all the cash from the cash register,” he explained. “Northampton is totally opposite from Springfield and Chicopee. Very nice. I’m very happy here.”

Sirk has four children, aged 7, 5, 3 years and four months, with his wife, who stays at home to take care of them.  He becomes most animated when talking about them and about Islam – he and his family are members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect which he describes as “totally against the jihad.”

“You do jihad by yourself, with your inner side, with your spirituality. This is a jihad by myself,” Sirk explained, gesturing to his store. He keeps a stack of books written by the current leader of Ahmadiyya (“my spiritual father”) on the counter, next to the cigarette lighters.  “We have one motto: Love for all, hatred for none.”

Sirk sees the way he behaves with customers as part of his spirituality. He explains, “If I give them love, if I give them patience and you know, softness, that’s my jihad.”  When a customer came in asking for condoms, he said, “Biggest one? I have balloons,” and laughed heartily. Despite Sirk’s satisfaction with Northampton and his “beautiful, and also excellent” customers, he said, “My business is not much better because I pay a lot of rent. This is a big issue for me here because it’s a Smith property, and because it’s not an ideal place for a convenience store having walk-in coolers. I pay a lot of electricity bill and don’t save money. Still, the big asset is peace of mind.”

Sirk won’t be running a convenience store forever. He plans to return to school so he can work as a banker again in the U.S. when his children are older. “After maybe three to four years, when my business will be established, I go to university again and get the specialist degree, master in business administration,” he said.  With Outkast and Charli XCX on the store’s radio and people coming in to buy lottery tickets, the corner of Green Street and West Street seems far away from Pakistan. “The biggest difference as a businessman and a citizen, I think [in the U.S.] there are rules, regulations, security, and respect also, there is respect also in Pakistan but the one thing that is very rare is security.”