Store Stories

  • No Horns

    My grandfather Jacobs used to peddle across the Ashley River. That time they had to catch a ferry boat across the river, before they build the first wooden bridge. One time it was getting too close to Shabbos and he couldn’t get home before Shabbos started so he stopped at a farmer’s house to find if he could spend the night there. He asked the man if he could put him up until Sunday morning. He told him why, he told him he was Jewish—“I don’t work on my Sabbath and I don’t work my animal.” The man told him, “You don’t look Jewish. You don’t have horns.”

  • Story from: Jacobs, Isaac |
  • Close Call

    [My father] became a peddler, walking, pack on his back, customers mostly blacks, buying on the installment plan, paying thirty-five cents this week, thirty-five next week. He was a typical Southern Jewish peddler. Interestingly, he had an indentation in his skull that came about because he once went out to collect and was told by neighbors that the man who owed him was not there. He'd been putting my dad off for weeks. As my dad turned to leave, the man, who indeed was there, brought down a hatchet on my father's head. Fortunately, just at that moment, my father needed to scratch his head. It saved his life! His arm was broken in about four places, but the edge of the hatchet tipped over and made this indentation which as a kid I used to feel from time to time. It wasn't exactly a talisman but I used to feel it. He worked hard. He eventually had a horse and buggy, then in time, got into the retail business, and some years later into the wholesale shoe business. He and his brother became the largest shoe wholesalers in the Carolinas.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |
  • Peddling

    At sixteen years old my father was teaching Hebrew—that’s over in Europe, of course. He come over here and he started out peddling. He bought this cow and made the five dollars. He felt that was a good way to make money and he started dealing in livestock, then he took over the slaughterhouse and became very successful. And then we had a mule business there [in Anderson, South Carolina]. My father, he bought it and put my brother-in-law in it. He bought the mule business, he used to hang around there a lot, and then later I went in with my brother-in-law—before I came to Walterboro I was partner with my brother-in-law. My whole family was in livestock. I was the first one to get into this kind of [retail, dry goods] business.

  • Story from: Siegel, Sam |
  • Getting Started

    Anyway, Papa went to Hornik to get some goods on credit and they asked him some questions. They asked him what kind of collateral [he had]. “I have nothing, I have absolutely nothing.” They were so impressed with his being so candid and honest, Papa said, that by the time he got home the cartons of merchandise were already there waiting for him. They’d already sent it to the house. He was very impressed by that.

  • Story from: Kirshtein, Sam |
  • The Thing They Do

    Typically in those days, you know, the Jews were unskilled, didn’t have any degrees or any professional life. They’d open a store, either a grocery store or dry goods or furniture or general merchandise. The thing to do was to open a store. My father had several stores. Looking back on his career, he should never have been in business. He was more of a scholar. He was more interested in reading and writing. He had several businesses. He had a fish market, couple or three grocery stores, and finally in his later years he just gave it all up and became an inspector for the health department. But that was—he was forced into doing things that he really was not qualified to do and yet he didn’t have any professional training to do anything else. You don’t have to be particularly trained to open a grocery store in those days. There were no supermarkets and the competition was corner groceries. So it was very simple if you knew how to manage money, and he apparently didn’t know how, so he never survived any long-term business. Mamie Ellison Karesh, 1903 My mother was a professional caterer for years and years. She did weddings and the bar mitzvahs and things of that nature. So between the two of them, they raised seven children. But none of us ever went to college. None of the seven ever went to college. Probably a financial thing. We all went to work early so we could contribute to the household expense. My first job was earning twelve dollars a week and I was required to give five dollars to my mother. And all the other members of the family did likewise. My father had a scale that hung from the ceiling and the container was shaped like kind of a bucket or shovel and that’s where he would weigh the fish. The store was located just across the street from Mr. Robinson’s pawn shop and bicycle shop. Klyde [Robinson] and his family lived over that store. Maybe not on a daily basis but certainly on a regular basis his maid would bring over Klyde to the fish market and my father would put him in the scale and weigh him. That became kind of a routine thing for my father and Klyde. And Klyde remembers that. Somebody must have told him of course.

  • Story from: Karesh, Karl |
  • The Head Salesman

    In those days, you know, no automobiles and no transportation, McClellanville to Charleston was maybe a two-day trip by horse and buggy, or an all-day trip by horse and buggy. They [peddlers] would take orders for merchandise, blankets, spreads, and any household goods—pots, pans—and next trip they would bring it to them. I think one of the interesting things—there was a store here called Solomon’s, Sam Solomon. They were on King Street, almost across the street from where Fox Music House used to be. Next to it was a big Jewish delicatessen called Mazo’s Delicatessen. Sam Solomon would give the merchandise to all the peddlers, Jewish peddlers, on consignment, to go out and sell. He had a black man working for them in the store whose name was Isaac, and Isaac spoke Yiddish like you’ve never heard in your life. I mean, you could not tell he wasn’t European. He would converse with all the refugees—immigrants, rather, in those days—in Yiddish. I remember him as a kid as a nice—coal-black, but one of the nicest fellows you ever met, and he was the head salesman for Solomon’s with the immigrants.

  • Story from: Addlestone, Nathan S. |
  • I'm not cut out for selling shoes

    I came home [from the service] and Mama said take a month off and I did and Alex Karesh asked me one—it was Christmas weekend—he offered me a job. I worked for him for about six months. I knew this was not going to be my future. Then I told Alex Karesh in May, “I’m not cut out for selling shoes.” He said, “But I’m happy with you.” I said, “I feel morally obligated to stay with you till you get a respectable replacement. I’ll give you till the first of the year to find one, seven months.” In about two months, he came back to me and he said, “I do have someone who wants your job, but I still want you.” I appreciate that, but you know this wasn’t—and then I went out in my car and I went out and peddled and knocked on doors. I remember I went to the C&S Bank right opposite Cannon Street—the bank still exists but in a different name—and wanted to borrow a thousand dollars and the guy tells me, “You never had any credit.” I said, “No, but I got to get started.” He gave me a note and he said, “Take this down to your Uncle Abe and tell him to sign right under your name.” I had never, ever had anyone endorse anything for me. I wouldn’t do it. So I went to my advisor who is the best financial man to this day, Melvin Solomon. “Melvin, what do I do?” He said, “You go to South Carolina National on Broad Street.” He said, “You go see David Verner and don’t ask for a thousand. You ask for two thousand. He’ll turn you down and he’ll only give you a thousand.” I went to Mr. Verner and I went through the story and I showed him my statement. He saw something on the statement the other banks didn’t. I had an insurance policy from Arthur Williams’ father and the cash value was nine hundred and some-odd dollars. He said, “You want two thousand, you’ve got to do two things. Number one, transfer your account here.” I said, “That’s easy to do.” “Number two, I want you to make us the beneficiaries of your policy for whatever interest that may appear and the balance will go to your estate.” Which I did, and that was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me because I was with the bank for years until Mr. Verner died.

  • Story from: Kirshstein, Max |
  • From Peddler to Pawnbroker

    When [my father] first came here he peddled from Charleston to Columbia. With all the little merchandise that he had he would stop at the various little towns like North and Denmark, those little towns from Charleston to Columbia. Because you know they didn’t have the interstate. He had an old car in those days. I don’t know what kind of car or how he got around that well. As I say I’m very sorry I never asked more questions. But when he came here he had his meals at Rabbi Karesh’s. [David Karesh, rabbi of Beth Shalom in Columbia, S.C.] Most of the peddlers would manage to spend the the night there or wherever they could find a Jewish home and keep kosher meals and eat kosher. And then he opened up a ladies ready-to-wear on Gervais Street—I am going to say where the AT&T building is now. Across from the capitol. But he didn’t stay in that long. That wasn’t his forte. He opened a pawn shop on Main Street. And then later moved it to Washington right off of Main Street and he stayed there until he died. I started working for my father when I was about fifteen. I was going to Columbia High School and his store was only about two blocks down. And I used to walk down there and help them in the afternoons when I got out of high school. Being a pawn shop, we used to take in everything. Saws, hammers, it didn’t make any difference. We took in men’s clothing, jewelry, of course, and luggage. Anything like that.

  • Story from: Kahn, Helen Greher |
  • The Promise of King Street

    I think that that is what the appeal was for many Jews—King Street was what was unique about this Jewish community. King Street offered that kind of Jewish person the opportunity to have that kind of store, that small business. Put something in it and you could make a living.

  • Story from: Lubin, Lillie ("Lisa") Goldstein |
  • The War Changed Everything

    The Mazos was three or four doors up. Zucker had a furniture store a couple of doors next to us. Star Furniture Company was Max Zucker’s father and that’s Bubba Zucker’s father also. I’m trying to think who else. Across the street—I remember when they came to Charleston—was the Siegels. They had a shoe repair shop. They were cousins to the Oxlers who had a shoe repair shop further up the street. Across the street from us, directly across the street, was a candy store. All the merchants on King Street, I’d say 99 percent, were Jewish, either clothing stores or shoe stores. Robinson had a bicycle shop up at the corner. Solomon had a bicycle shop halfway, next door to the Mazos. They had Mike, Sam and Jake’s, men’s clothing. All the brothers were in the store. Oh, yeah, I remember them well. And across the street from them was Edward Kronsberg who had the five and dime store, Edward’s. Most of them were Jewish merchants. On Saturday you couldn’t buy a piece of furniture; you couldn’t buy clothing. The stores were closed in Charleston. You couldn’t buy anything on Saturdays. Of course, later on you could, but I’m talking about in the early ’30s and late ’30s. Seems like the war changed everything in Charleston.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • The Bicycle Business

    Bicycle businesses as most businesses in Charleston, particularly in those days, they handled bicycles and toys. You’re familiar with Toys-R-Us today? Well, that’s how the bicycle shop was. Various toys and dolls and so forth were stacked from the ground to the ceiling. In the months of November and December they did a bigger business than the rest of the ten months of the year. Everybody in the family worked at the store in December. Even when I became the United States District Attorney, and I became a Circuit Court Judge, come December 15th, I would take leave, vacation time, from those positions, and go down to the store and work. Everybody worked in the store. Nobody got paid a salary or anything of that nature. Whatever we needed, we went to the register and took, no questions asked. No accounting had to be given. We’d go on a trip, we took some money, Dad gave us some money. That’s what we did.

  • Story from: Robinson, Klyde |
  • He Could Never Be a Peddler

    When we got to Charleston my father had already established a lovely home for us—my brother was there too—and beautiful clothes and everything, and we did not suffer. But my father was never a happy man in Charleston, because he was very snooty. He had a tremendous ego, and you can’t have that and get along in this country. My father thought if you couldn’t speak two, three languages, you were not educated. He could never be a peddler, like most of them became, because that was beneath him. He had a grocery store, and he was as poor a businessman as one could be—I mean, he just didn’t understand the rudiments of business. But they had Jewish jobbers there, like the Hirshmans and the Pearlstines, and they all gave him an open credit, and he put in light clothes too. But to say he was a success—he was not.

  • Story from: Levinson, Libby Friedman |
  • A Curse

    My mother was not a businesswoman. My mother always used to say God put a curse on her because her two daughters were businesswomen. She thought it was horrible for a woman to work in a store. She would cry about it.

  • Story from: Levinson, Libby Friedman |
  • The First Sale

    The oldest department store in Charleston, Jewish, was Furchgott’s. They were Reform Jews. He opened up a very fine ladies’ ready-to-wear store in Charleston. It was called Herbert’s, downtown. Right after I quit my job—I only worked a few weeks because I could not walk three miles—there was an ad in the paper: a woman was going off for two months, the secretary took off for two months, and they were looking for somebody, so I went. He thought I was a little bit young, and I showed him what I could do, and he hired me for just the two months. I didn’t have to work on Saturday. When he hired me, the office was in the center of the store—that’s the way Charleston used to be, they don’t have that now. So this girl came in [to Herbert’s]. She was a friend of my sister Annie’s, her name was Goodman. She was Theresa Livingstain’s first cousin, and she was fat, she wore about an eighteen dress. And this clerk—her name was Maybelle Kennedy, I can still remember—she was trying to keep on telling her, “Buy a black dress or a navy ’cause you’re stout, it will make you look thinner,” and she didn’t like it. I called over my boss and I said, “Mr. Benjamin, if you let me go over there and help that girl”—and that’s the first time I ever sold in my life—“I can sell her a dress.” And they had expensive clothes, in that time, like 150 dollar dresses. He says, “Well, go ahead and try, I’ll tell Maybelle you’ll give her the commission because you don’t work on the floor.” And I did sell her a beautiful dress, I sold her a pretty printed silk dress. He said to me, “I want you to work on the floor when the cashier comes back.” He says, “You know human nature.” I said, “No, I don’t know human nature, but I know her nature, she didn’t want a black or a navy dress.”

  • Story from: Levinson, Libby Friedman |
  • A Stylish Lady

    My mother was quite a stylish lady and very tall, slim, good looking. And people liked the way she looked and so they used to buy. They sold very inexpensive clothes but it was during the Depression. People didn’t have any money. My mother could put on a $5.95 Bamberg sheer dress and look great in it. So they wanted to look like she did so they would come there. But that was the price of clothes—$5.95, $6.95. A formal dress was $10.95, $12.95. They were very successful in that business. But my father had been in business since he was about nineteen years old. He only went through the eighth grade at Bennett’s school and he worked. He went to work.

  • Story from: Berlin, Shera Lee Ellison |
  • Appearances

    And my father, always appearances were very important to him, very important. You were a lady. You acted like a lady. You acted like a gentleman. You weren’t loud. I can remember the kids used to shoot marbles on the sidewalk. It was always a little dirt place and the kids used to shoot marbles and would draw the little circle outside the theater on George Street. I think my father thought it was his sole responsibility to come home every afternoon and run the kids off the street and tell ’em to go inside the building. Children didn’t play in the street. He did not like that. He didn’t like all the little Jewish boys congregating in the street shooting marbles. He thought they ought to be inside.

  • Story from: Berlin, Shera Lee Ellison |
  • A Very Large Shoe Store

    My father had at one time a very large shoe store. As big as Morris Sokol Furniture Company—it was forty feet wide with two front double doors, one hundred feet back. It belonged to the Hughes family who owned Hughes Lumber Company, the property. They wouldn’t sell it to him. He had an interesting store—he had three showcases, beautiful showcases, in front. One was a long one that faced the door and one on each side of that. The big one had curves around the front. He also had ladders attached to the ceiling on a rail on the right hand and left hand side that were attached to the ceiling. He had a high shelf; when you wanted to reach to the top shelf you had to climb that ladder. In the back of the store, he had a circular bench made of black leather which he finally gave to The Charleston Museum. It was round and circular and he kept that in the back for people coming back for rubber shoes or children’s shoes to try on. My mother, unless she helped her mother in Branchville, never helped in a store in her life. I don’t know what year she left Branchville, maybe seven or eight years old. But, my father also had a clock in the front window of the women’s side. See, in the front, on the right hand side were the men’s shoes on display in front facing the street and on the left were the ladies shoes. Well, I remember a glass clock that hung down by a chain from the top and had one hour hand and one minute hand and on the front of the clock it says: “How does this clock work?” Well, the works were actually in the round part of the hour hand. They had to wind it regular; they didn’t have electric clocks those days. He also had an old time cash register—today it would be worth a fortune—made out of a silver-looking metal. You punched a button with the amount of the sale in the front and the drawer was in back. He even had a cashier on busy days who would give change. It used to work by electricity or by a crank handle. He also had a mechanical adding machine. The funny part of that adding machine—I think it was before 1910—he had a bookkeeper who was filling out a deposit slip. He asked my father to check his addition of the checks he was depositing and my father checked it, got a different figure than the bookkeeper. They both checked it again and finally agreed to a figure. My father says, “You know, I’ve heard of such a thing as a mechanical adding machine. I ought to try to buy one.” It wasn’t two minutes later, they tell me, a young man came in from the corner. His father ran a grocery store on the corner named Knobloch. He comes to my father and told him who he was and said, “I’m selling adding machines. I’m taking orders and shipping from the factory.” My father said, “Let me see a sample.” He said, “All I’ve got is a catalogue, prices.” “Let me see it.” He showed him. He showed him a drawing of a Wales adding machine. Must have been from England, I don’t know. It was on a stand, thirty inches high. He asked how much it was. He told him. My father said, “I’ll take it.” Mr. Knobloch told my father, he says, “You’re going to take it? Just like that? You know, you are the first person I’ve called on to try to sell these adding machines and you buy one in less than two minutes. I don’t know whether I ought to continue this work or not. It’s just too easy! You know, I ought to quit while I’m ahead.” [My father] sold out to these people from Savannah called Sterling Shoe Stores. They still have a store in Savannah called Globe Shoe Store. They had about a half a dozen shoe stores in Georgia and this one in Charleston. They used this one for an outlet store. He didn’t have enough money to stock the business right. That was in l930. A man named Joseph came down with a carload of socks which weren’t seconds or even thirds—they were what was called misplates. That time men wore socks almost up to the knee made out of acetate rayon; they also made cotton socks. Nylon wasn’t invented until the late ’30s. These socks, as they were being made sometimes a thread would pop and some of the pattern would be left out of the sock. Any time that would happen they would throw them out into baskets and they would sell those socks off by the pound. Joseph, and people like him, used to go about and buy those socks by the pound and had women match them up the best they can. The ones that almost matched, they would get eighty-five cents a dozen. The ones that were really mismatched badly, the threads popped badly, Mr. Joseph would sell for forty-five cents a dozen. The stores sold them for ten cents a pair and five cents a pair. A lot of men used to buy one pair a week. I don’t know if they washed them. They threw them away. That August, Mr. Joseph came into my father’s shoe store and sold him twenty dozen of those socks at eighty-five cents a dozen which my father put in the shelf and put a few of them in the showcase and put a sign on them “ten cents a pair.” He came back in September and he still had fifteen, sixteen dozen left and he didn’t buy any more. He came back in October, he had sold them all. Word was getting around. Edwards was near the corner selling cheap socks like that and better socks. He bought twenty dozen more in October and he came back in November just before Thanksgiving and he sold him twenty dozen more. He said, “I notice you are dressing the window right now”—the men’s shoe window. “You have ledges in there, why not put socks on them?” And they did. They sold over one hundred fifty dozen retail between then and Christmas. Well, after Christmas my brother had a half year more in college and he and my father said, “Maybe we ought to buy some of these socks from Joseph and resell them and job them.” That’s how they got in the wholesale business. He had to give Mr. Joseph a check to give to one of the factories in North Carolina to pay for the goods right away because Mr. Joseph couldn’t carry them financially. In fact, he might have had maybe fifty dollars in the bank and Melvin and I went out that Monday afternoon and we sold enough socks along Meeting Street and North Charleston area to pay for the check. Mr. Joseph was a Syrian. Well, finally a man named Charles Cohen came to Charleston with a big variety of socks and they began buying —Mr. Joseph quit coming because he was old—that was in ’3l. By that time, Melvin was traveling these country towns 50 to l50 miles from Charleston with a carload of socks. During ’3l my father still had the retail shoe store but then he was bought out by the Sterling Shoe Stores of Savannah.

  • Story from: Jacobs, Isaac |
  • Hog Heaven

    Everybody lived over their stores, practically. ’Cause, you know, in those days it was almost a seven-day work week. Saturday night was the busy night. Saturday, actually, was the busy day. The blacks, who were mainly our customers, would come into Cannon Street and park their buses coming from the islands, or out in the country, go shopping up and down King Street. And from Spring almost, or from Line I would say, almost to Calhoun there would be a lot of people. It would be busy until one o’clock in the morning. You worked on Saturday. You went to work at eight-thirty and you worked till twelve o’clock and that was the nature of the beast. You either worked those hours or you didn’t work. Jobs were scarce in those days. After school, I was making four dollars a week. I was glad to get that. And then when I graduated, I was making ten dollars a week. When I went to work at the Navy Yard, my first paycheck was nineteen dollars and I thought I was in hog heaven. The ones who wanted to close on Saturday were the ones that observed Shabbos. I remember, vividly, Sonny Goldberg telling me not long before he died that he use to love Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon he would get ready to leave the store and go home and get ready for Shabbos. Dress up, shower, get ready for Shabbos. It’s like he was reborn again. He didn’t care what happened to the business. He was just going to take it easy on Shabbos and he did. Prystowskys were closed. Sam Solomon was closed. Quite a few were closed. A lot of the furniture stores were closed. They observed Shabbos. They opened up Sunday. Now we used to open Sunday, too. Alec Karesh would open Sunday morning at eight-thirty and stay open until one o’clock. And there were shoppers there, too. My father would open on Sunday morning for a while. You know, one thing about opening, you don’t know who’s going to walk in. I have the same theory there. You shut down, you’ve got nothing. You know you’re going to get nothing. You stay open, you don’t know what’s going to come in. You had several Goldbergs [who closed for Shabbos]. There was Sonny’s family. There was his uncle and another uncle. There were at least four different Goldberg families that had stores. There were the Altmans that had a couple of stores. There were the Kirshteins that had a couple of stores. And you had Sam Solomon. Then you had the Prystowskys. Leo Livingstain had a hardware store, he was shut down. There were easily forty stores [closed on Saturdays]. Come Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, King Street was dead. I mean, everybody shut down. It was dead.

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • Haven't spoken English today

    My father had a sense of humor that was really something else. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this story, but his favorite expressoin was—if you asked how business was, he would tell you in Yiddish, “Ich hab nicht der erster word in English gesprochen,”which means “I haven’t spoken the first word of English yet today.” He hadn’t had a customer.

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • Close-knit

    Next door to my father’s store was the Fechters—they had a hardware store. Down the street from the Fechters, about two doors, was another Ellison. There was Haskell’s father, he had a shoe store. Across the street was the Read Brothers, Firetag, Mr. Goldberg or Geldbart, and then Mr. Alec Ellison, Shera Lee’s father. And then you got on the next block the Alperns. You had the Kareshes, and you had the Barshays, the Cohens, I mean, but they’re all gone. Oh, I hate to talk about that, but Ms. Laufer had her little restaurant and the Zalkins had the meat market. It was a close-knit community and people got along real well.

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • The Cash Register

    I’ll tell you this much. I went to work, the first job I had, I went to work at eight o’clock Saturday morning, worked till one o’clock Sunday morning, took a short break for lunch, and a short break for supper. I had never rung up a register in my life. Customer came in, he bought a jar of Vaseline for a dime, he gave me a dime and I rang up a dime. He bought a jar of Vaseline for a dime and he gave me fifty cents and I had to give him forty cents change, I rang up fifty cents, I was putting a half dollar in the register, I wasn’t figuring I was taking out forty cents. They checked that register that night and it was nine dollars short. They went ballistic. They swore—I know they swore I stole the money. They paid me thirty-five cents. Worked there while I was going to high school, after school, and finally they decided to fire me. Then I got another job. And I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Second one made the first one look like an angel. I worked for that man for about two years. And I got sick, caught the flu. I worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and by Wednesday I couldn’t stand on my feet. I went home. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. He came up to my house Wednesday night, gave me three days’ [pay] and told me he didn’t need me anymore. Alex Karesh's Uptown Sample Shoe Store, ca. 1929 Then, fortunately, my father asked Alex Karesh to give me a job. Alec said, “Send him down.” I went to work for Alex Karesh and he used to call me, he always called me Irving. He’d call me and I would jump. “What are you jumping for? Relax. I’m not going to knock your head off.” He was really a gentleman. As I told you, the story with the money, if I’d done that with any other boss, I’d have been history.

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • Wrong End of the Business

    Well, Arthur [Kahn] was repairing radios and I was repairing radios. I was way up on Meeting Street and Arthur was in town. I’d come downtown every morning around ten, ten-thirty, and we’d go across the street to Gainey’s and drink coffee. Then one day Arthur says, “Itchy, do you realize what kind of profit is in the wholesale end of the business?” I said, “No, how did you know?” He says, “I was in Radio Lab and I happened to see an invoice. They are making forty percent.” I said, “Arthur, we’re in the wrong end of this business. We’re struggling to make a dollar and this man is making hundreds of dollars.”

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • Saturdays at the Read Bros.

    It was a peculiar business. We did as much business on a Saturday as the rest of the week. All the rest put together. It was a nice business. We were very crowded. Right now our trades are at their smallest. In those days you wouldn’t know it. On a Saturday, we would have maybe thirty or forty people in the store at one time, buying twenty-five cent stocking, fifty cent blouses, two dollars and ninety-five cent overalls. Prices like that. Twenty-five cent cloth. We had lots of cloths for twenty-five cents. Yellow homespun was ten cents, and a good quality, four-yard sheeting. The hours were long. On Saturday we would close at twelve midnight. Open at eight in the morning. During the week, we’d be eight until nine. We never lived over the store until [Dad] went broke and had to sell that house and we moved up over the store on the third floor. We had an elevator, a freight elevator that took us up and down. I used to enjoy doing that.

  • Story from: Read, Joseph David |
  • You'll never have enough

    My father kept his store closed on Saturday until around l9l0. He used to go to synagogue with his father every Saturday. One Saturday he decided to have Mr. Greenberg open the store on Saturday while he was going to synagogue—shul. Whether he worked that afternoon or not I don’t know. My grandfather, on Saturday afternoon, instead of going a few blocks to synagogue, there was a minyan across the street above one of the stores, a daily minyan and Saturday afternoon. The first Saturday afternoon he didn’t notice that the store was open. The second Saturday, as he was crossing the street, from the corner of his eye he saw the door open—wide open. Well, he had been working in the store as a cashier for a number of years and went back into the store, walked all the way to the back and came out the front and never put his foot in that store again. He had to be about seventy-two years of age. The next morning he asked my father, “Why have you got your store open?” He said, “Well, I have been losing business and I can use the money.” So [my grandfather] answered him, “I don’t care how much money you have, you’ll never have enough.” He still didn’t go back to the store.

  • Story from: Jacobs, Isaac |
  • The Most Interesting Life

    [My father] had a general merchandise store. We had every bit of clothing for men and women and children except shoes. But everything else was available. And in those days you kept open from seven in the morning until eleven or twelve at night. As long as the customer came you were open. And that was the end of that business. But the Fox Music House was my pet. I loved working in there. You meet such a wonderful line of people. From the poorest to the roughest. We had people that Otto peddled with before we opened up the business and he would get paid with a chicken, vegetables. If they didn’t have the money, Otto Fox would leave a few dollars. They were sick. He’d help them get the medicine, put out the money for the medicine. The people have never forgotten that name. Right now wherever I go, “Mr. Fox was such a fine man. You know, he did so and so for us. He helped us with the medicine. He helped us with the sick.” And he peddled. He used to get a dollar payment and if they couldn’t pay that they paid him a watermelon. See. We worked together. They didn’t have the money so how could they pay us. This is the most interesting life. We finally went into the music business. We had a complete record stock. Anything you wanted to hear you had in our store. And if we didn’t have it, we ordered it for the people. And that was the part that built us up. We worked so hard to please the people. At first we had a hand winding machine with two records. I was the only one in the business then. People would hear the music outside, especially church music for the colored people. They would come in and pay ten cents on a thirty-five-cent record. And we put one aside for them and when the other one came in, we called the people or wrote them a card if they didn’t have a phone and they came and took the record out.

  • Story from: Fox, Sarah Mendelson |
  • Laufer's Kosher Restaurant

    There were—it might have been different times—two Jewish restaurants that I remember. Going back as far as I can remember, there was a Jewish restaurant I would say at about 529, or 531 King Street. Somewhere in that area. And that was first run, that I can recall, by a lady called Mrs. Greenberg. I believe her name was Molly Greenberg, a rather stout lady. She ran a restaurant, a kosher restaurant, and we would frequent it. Then Mrs. Laufer, even while Mrs. Greenberg was there, opened up a little restaurant above where they had a store at 535. And we would go upstairs there and she would serve meals in her kitchen or in a little room the size of this room we’re in, fourteen by fourteen, twelve by twelve, something. And we’d eat occasionally there or we’d eat at the Greenberg’s. My mother was an excellent cook and she’d like to cook, but frequently on Sunday my father and mother and I would go into the kosher restaurant and eat. Thereafter, I think, Mrs. Greenberg wanted to retire. As a matter of fact, Helen Berle—she was a Laufer, her mother [was] Sadie [Tillie?] Laufer. They had a brother called Jakie, Jake. I talked to Helen recently, recalling things. Helen married somebody by the name of Dwork. She had two daughters. She is presently married to Maurice Berle, Berlinsky. She said that Mrs. Greenberg used to occasionally come up and eat at her mother’s restaurant, she enjoyed it, but finally Mrs. Laufer bought Mrs. Greenberg out. Helen’s father ran a little men’s store, some new merchandise, some used merchandise. They gave that store up when they took over the restaurant. Mrs. Laufer was a large woman, heavy woman, but delightful, very generous. I think you could get a steak dinner for thirty-five cents or maybe sixty five cents—appetizer, soup, meat, three vegetables, all the bread you want, tea, and dessert. Everything was ample sizes, too. One thing in particular that I remember, two things I remember about, three things I remember, four things—Laufer Restaurant Business Cardif I can decide to talk. I remember that Mrs. Laufer had a reputation that she would never keep food from one day to the next. At the end of the day she would either throw it away or give it away. Everyday it was fresh vegetables, fresh meat. Two, Mr. Laufer was meticulous about cleaning the place. He had a little whisk broom and he would go around the tables and anybody [dropped a] bread crumb, he’d whisk it off and clean up the place. He would always grumble, but did that. Third thing I remember was that occasionally, people would come in the community who didn’t have any money. Somebody in the neighborhood would take up a collection, bring them into Mrs. Laufer and feed them. There was one particular person who was sort of the Sammy Ward of the community. His name was Jake Widelitz. You may run across his name somewhere, W-I-D-E-L-I-T-Z. He had relatives who live in St. George, but the community for awhile fed him when he didn’t work and I know that she would always give him extremely large portions. I remember one evening seeing him with flanken. Do you know what flanken is? Boiled flanken? It’s meat that they would boil and make soups with and she’d serve him a big [portion]. Delicious with horseradish. I don’t eat meat now because of cholesterol, but I remember she would serve him large portions.

  • Story from: Brickman, Jack Pincus |
  • Hot Tea

    I remember that people would come in [to Laufer’s Restaurant] in the afternoon, they would get a cup of tea, like people go get Coca-Colas now. Some of the Jewish merchants would come into the store in the afternoon to get a cup of tea, just to refresh and think awhile. Get away from the business. I can see them drinking a cup of tea, holding the tea between their fingers, either holding them at the rim or holding it between their thumb and their lower finger at the edge. Drinking tea with a little sugar in their mouth. Hot glass of tea. Cube of sugar, yes. Put that in the mouth. Of course, I remember holding it primarily by the rim, but others have told me that it was between the top and the bottom, between the two fingers. And they would drink hot tea, scalding hot, with the sugar.

  • Story from: Brickman, Jack Pincus |
  • Schnorrers

    On the outside of each building on King Street the schnorrers would come. You know what a schnorrer is? The men who came by begging, asking for charity for some institution in Russia or some little organization or some synagogue or something to do with very, very strict Orthodox. They would have the little pais and the big fedora hats and the coats on. And later on, they took off the big fedora hats and the coats and they would come and you would give them charity. They would go from store to store collecting. They had these stores marked off where they would stop, where they knew there would be help for them. The Banov store had a big brick taken out where they knew that was [where the money was]—one would pass it on to the other. They would come in on a bus or a train and they would stop at Banov’s first and they would go through the town collecting. Sam Banov did it and Mrs. Banov would give them a room to sleep at night over the store on King Street. They lived over the store, too. She would feed them and the next morning, they would put them on a bus. They would give them enough to carry them to another city.

  • Story from: Banov, Edna Ginsberg |
  • A Very Orderly Individual

    My father rented a piece of property at 543 King Street. He opened a store there and we lived above the store. In the back of the store we had a little tailor shop where my mother and father would make such repairs as they could. If you had to have a pair of pants shortened it would be shortened in fifteen minutes, you didn’t have to come back two weeks later. My father would custom-make suits—I see bolts of cloth here [in the photo]. But my father kept an immaculate store. He was a very orderly individual.

  • Story from: Brickman, Jack Pincus |
  • Noah's Ark

    Yes, [my grandfather’s store] was called Noah’s Ark. I’d like to think of it as almost like a combination [of a] pawn shop and everything else. People in those days who had to sell something, he’d buy it and resell it, and he had some new merchandise—it was more or less a hardware store. I used to always help Grandma open up at the shop on Saturday and sit with her. My grandmother was artistic. I laughed—she used to buy these dishes from the dime store and she’d hand paint them herself with paint and the tourists would want to buy them. I think we have one left and my sister’s got it. I let her keep it, you know. 585 King Street. That was the building they owned, and they lost that about 1939, something like that. You know how everybody had run across [hard] times in those days. Then they moved—boy, if that wasn’t something, moving that daggone store to 586. It was a block away, but they changed one number. From 585 to 586.

  • Story from: Stine, Gordan B. |
  • Rent

    [My grandmother] owned some property on the outskirts of the city limits where the cemetery is, the Brith Sholom Cemetery. As a kid, I used to go up there and become the rent collector with her. As a ten-year-old, write receipts, you know, and things like that. Yes, she had black people [living there]. Like a little tenement, I guess, I forget how many—I call ’em shacks—how many were there. The streetcar used to run almost up to McCarthy’s, used to run right to there. We’d get off there and walk to her property and collect the rent and come back. That was a Sunday morning deal.

  • Story from: Stine, Gordan B. |
  • The Floorwalker

    [My dad] was the forerunner of what is today public relations, because he was very talented in making signs. You know, signs weren’t just printed in those days. They either were handmade or you just didn’t have one. And Dad did that real well. He did what we call—when you had an ad in the newspaper, he did the layouts on that- and he also trimmed the windows, you know, dressed the windows. He was very creative. Like I say, he was ahead of his time. He went into many businesses here in Charleston during the Depression years, always undercapitalized—had the right enthusiasm, but in those days it was tough and he happened not to be one of the lucky ones, that’s all that survived. He always ended working for somebody. His last real job was with Kerrison’s Department Store. He was [working with] the advertising and display. And he was what they call a floorwalker, you know. There was four stories there. He had two stories and another man had two floors.

  • Story from: Stine, Gordan B. |
  • The Barber Shop

    Around the corner you can still see the store, the barber pole that was there, that red and white, circled barber pole. Everybody in the neighborhood went to have a date once a week to the barber shop. They got a shave and a haircut, five cents. Papa allowed one of his daughters, Edna, Flossie, or Lola, to go with him. We would vie for that trip to sit in that barber shop and watch it. It was two blocks away from where we lived. We would sit there and watch and we would listen to all the gossip, the talk about the barbers there.

  • Story from: Banov, Edna Ginsberg |
  • The Grocery Store

    We lived over the store on Hanover and America Street and we lived over the store on King Street. We went from one wholesale place, one building to another. King and Columbus Street and then a little further down we had another, Ginsberg Wholesale Tobacco. Papa traveled. He went from store to store selling wholesale candy instead of these grocery stores. He bought it and, in turn, he became a middle man. From there Papa went into his own business on King Street, two stores over there. The store was a little store with wooden plank floors and it was on the corner. The merchants loaned you money, gave you merchandise to start. Everything was sold in big kegs. Lard, flour, sugar—not kegs but big barrels, you know. You see these big barrels cut in half now. And they stood on the floor. This was the way our grocery store looked, with the huge big barrels of lard that my mother would have to dish up—she would hold her nose and open her mouth because it was treyf. But in the store, we had a lot of friends. They were mostly Mexicans and they were mostly blacks, ethnic groups, that came down here and they lived. This was called “Little Mexico.” On America Street in those days, it was prevalent with crime, yet there were a lot of very decent [people]—our associates were mostly children who lived in that neighborhood.

  • Story from: Banov, Edna Ginsberg |
  • Working Night and Day

    [I was] born in the master bedroom up over the store. We lived there until 1924 when my father who had been quite successful decided that after years of planning, he was going to build a house up on Hampton Park Terrace, known as The Terrace. He had a property there, about an acre or thereabouts, half acre, opposite the park on Moultrie Street, 107 Moultrie Street. That marked a typical stage of development of the immigrant population, the Jewish immigrant population of Charleston, and I think of many other cities, which was to come over and work like holy heaven to get established. You get established by working night and day, sleeping in the back of the store sometimes or sleeping above the store as the family did, and it was a nice combination upstairs but he couldn’t wait to build this, what was then regarded as one of the very very lovely houses of Charleston up there. I don’t know how many rooms it was but it was a big brick place, it was quite elegant. I mention that because that is a stage in the progression of Jewish immigrants. And also today the same sort of thing is being duplicated by the Vietnamese and the Koreans, all doing the same thing. Up in New York we see it. They come in, they open little stores somewheres, they get a stake, somebody gives them a stake, they start a little business, they sleep in the back of the store, they work night and day and then the next thing you know they’re building a house out in the suburbs. And in those days Moultrie Street was the suburb, The Terrace. It was part of the city but it was out of the usual.

  • Story from: Banov, Abel |
  • The Institution

    Now, did anybody tell you about the pawn shop, the institution? My father had brothers-in-law whom he backed in business. One was a furniture store he had to take over and one was a pawn shop. Now, when the brother-in-law who took over the pawn shop married a wealthy woman from New York he went up to New York to live. The father-in-law was a competitor with the man who founded the American Tobacco Company. He went up to New York and Willie Banov, Uncle Willie, must have been just about at the right age, so they put him in to run the pawn shop. So, here was my father stuck with a pawn shop and he had a thriving clothing business. He didn’t have any time to fool with it so he turned it over to Uncle Willie. Uncle Willie ran it and my father had virtually nothing to do with it. But he was identified as a pawnbroker because he owned this building in which he had a pawn shop which was operated by other people. They didn’t allow him in there because he would have given the damn place away, he was that kind of a guy. He would come in every once in a while and play loan man and drive my Uncle Willie crazy because he was unreasonably generous with it. He was that kind of a guy. But when he died they identified him as a pawnbroker. When they talked about the history of the store they identified him—it drove me up the wall because it wasn’t really right; he wasn’t a pawnbroker, he was a merchant. People from downtown used to come in through the clothing store, there was a common door, they would come in through the clothing store as if they were going to enter the clothing store. They would go in and pawn jewelry and pawn flatware and all kinds of stuff to carry them over, especially during the Depression, but later, too.

  • Story from: Banov, Abel |
  • The Shoket

    My grandfather was a butcher and a shokhet in Vilna, which was Lithuania sometime, Russia sometime, and, of course, Poland sometime. They needed a shokhet in Charleston and they needed a butcher. He arrived in Ellis Island and people greeted him and told him this is where he should go. So, he came to Charleston and immediately set up a kosher meat market. I don’t know if he was the first kosher butcher but I do know he was the first authentic meat market in Charleston. I was told that. Upstairs from the meat market was a minyan room. It seems to me that the older men would meet and have a minyan every evening upstairs from the butcher shop while the women were buying their meat downstairs.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • The Meat Market

    The meat market was like a meeting place. We had chairs on one side, sawdust on the floor, live chickens in one window, fish in another window. We had a third window because we had a little section next to that where we used to keep live chickens all the time and ducks and at different times of the year, like the fall of the year, we had turkeys, live turkeys in there. My dad used to make pickles, always kept a big barrel of pickles in the middle of the floor, and people would reach in with their dirty hands and get a pickle out and they’d sit down and eat on it and finally bring a nickel up to the counter. It was a meeting place for a lot of the women also. They would talk about whatever was happening at home or what they were going to make for dinner.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • Sam Coaxum

    In the meantime, my grandfather had trained a young colored fellow named Sam Coaxum, who was just a teenager, and he had learned not only to cut meat but to speak Yiddish. So he was able to converse with the older women that came into the butcher shop, so that he knew what they wanted. I remember, as a youngster, they had an occasion of someone coming in who didn’t speak English and didn’t speak Yiddish—they must have come from another country—and in order to say she wanted something from the leg she held her rear end up to say what she wanted.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • Ice

    The iceman would come with these great big blocks of ice and they’d put it above the cooler. It took four men to lift the darn thing and stick it on top, reminiscent of today’s refrigerator with the freezer on top—a walk-in type thing made out of cork in the inside and racks. You’d hang the beef and the chickens up in there, but you couldn’t keep them over three days; you had to sell it or throw it out. We had a trayf market also and anything we didn’t sell in three days went down to the Market Square. Now, you’ve got to remember in those days there wasn’t refrigeration like we know it today, and certainly no freezers, so meat was fresh every three days. I remember as a young teenager my dad getting up real early and bringing in the carcasses and I would help him cut those carcasses up to where we could handle them in the walk-in cooler in the back of the store. He would fill orders. People would call up and say what they wanted: “I want a dozen veal chops or calf tongue or two pounds of liver.” He would package it up and on my way to school in the mornings—I had a bicycle with a big basket on the front—I would take it and deliver it in the morning before school. And, of course, I had every dog in Charleston following me because the meat was fresh and blood was pouring out of it. Many a time—nobody locked their houses in those in those days—I’d walk up the steps and go into the house and put the meat in the ice box. People would be sleeping or be busy dressing, whatever. I didn’t pay no attention; they didn’t pay any attention to me. And I’d notice a lot of times the water coming from underneath the ice box. I’d pick that little pot [up], dump the water out, put it back, because I knew it would overflow. It seemed like it was part of my job.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • The Bad House

    They always knew that kosher chicken or kosher meat was clean and free of disease. Of course, that’s what kosher means, you know, it’s clean. We were closed Saturday. We closed Friday afternoon from about three o’clock on. And we opened up after sundown on Saturday night. We’d be busy on Saturday night because everybody wanted chicken for Sunday dinner. The whore houses downtown wanted chicken on Sunday and they’d call up my daddy, and of course he knew where they were, he knew who was ordering, and I used to deliver. And he always warned me, “Now, don’t you stay too long at the bad house.” I’d take the chickens down there on Sunday morning.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • The Handwriting on the Wall

    The demand slipped quite a bit for kosher meat. The young marrieds weren’t as kosher as their parents. First of all, they ate out anything even if they kept a kosher home; then after awhile they saw that was fruitless, too. Even my sister kept a kosher home but they ate everything outside. So who are you fooling really? My father saw the handwriting on the wall and he let it go. Of course, we talked. When I came home we talked first about wholesaling and at that time we started talking about freezing things; the equipment had evolved for freezing. We talked about it but my father was so tired of the whole thing. He was worn out. And I said, “Okay, just sell it. I have a future.” I went to work with a big company when I finished school—Channelmaster Corporation.

  • Story from: Zalkin, Robert M. |
  • The Little Lady

    Bob Berg was a Jewish fellow out of New York. He had Columbia Liquors. And then there was Mr. Smith, who was a liquor dealer. He was an old bootlegger. This was before I got married, when I had my own liquor business—I would go in there, the wholesale house, and the place would be crowded with men. He was really a rough character, really rough, but don’t forget you’re still in the South. These men were waiting to get in to see him—they had glass partitions—he’d look out and see me and said, “Let’s see the little lady first.” This feminism, women who want to be like men, no, no, no, no. “Let’s see the little lady first.” “Mr. Smith, I need so-and so”—see, liquor was hard to get. I got it. I got it.

  • Story from: Schlosburg, Ella Levenson |
  • Behind the Scenes

    They made their own jewelry. And of course they bought a lot, like all jewelry stores do, but they made their jewelry, a lot of it, and the jewelry that they ordered, as I found out really in the last couple of years, my grandmother had to okay it first before she let it come into the jewelry store. If it was all right with her then it was all right to bring it on into the store. So that sort of shows that she did have a rule but she was one of the behind-the-scenes lady that you didn’t know it because he ruled very strongly, had a very strong rule over the entire family, but she was the one that said whether the jewelry could come in or not.

  • Story from: Ferguson, Conie Spigel |
  • Eyeglasses

    [My grandfather] was a salesman. My mother will tell you that. He was a very very good salesman. But then, the prices were not that astronomical where the people could not afford them. I can remember when my mother went back to school to get a college degree, that was in the middle to late ’60s, she used to have some of the students come over to the house and they would study together since she was an older student. And I can remember one time that one of the guys brought his parents over or something and when they heard the name the man reached into his pocket and said, “You see these glasses?” He said, “Your grandfather made these glasses for me and I’m still wearing them.” You know, Grandpa died in ’49 and this was in the ’60s, he was still wearing the same glasses. So it shows that the quality of his work had to have been fantastic, so the people were willing to spend money if they knew it was going to last them a lifetime. Those glasses lasted that man’s lifetime.

  • Story from: Ferguson, Conie Spigel |
  • Colorblind Haberdasher

    I sort of developed a memory for colors rather than being able to identify them. I very often just asked the customer, what color was this. And I’d tell them I’m colorblind. Is that green? No, he’d say, that’s purple. Most of my people knew I was colorblind. Most of my customers knew that. It became a kind of standing joke.

  • Story from: Karesh, Karl |
  • Chicken Feed and Rice

    My father’s store was on Meeting Street. I’ll tell you where it is. It’s on the corner of Meeting and Maple Street and at that time Maple Street was a dirt street, Meeting Street was paved with oyster shells. I remember sitting on the front of my father’s steps at the store and seeing them pave Meeting Street with the first coats of asphalt and things of that kind. I remember them laying the sewers on that street there, too, before they did the paving. That was in the 1920s, mid ’20s. The main store was a big room, a big room—I’m talking about my father’s place. He had ceiling fans. He had an ornate tin ceiling over the fans. Too bad it’s gone now. The store changed over a period of time but as far back as I can remember it had a big counter where he filled the orders on the counter. He had a candy case. He had the old-type cash registers. Had shelves behind the counter where they had the groceries, teas, and canned goods of various kinds. Then they had a medicine cabinet on one wall where they kept drugs of various kinds, patent drugs, medicine, that kind of thing. On one wall he had bins in which he used to sell—used to have chicken feed and rice. I can’t remember what else he had in there. And then eventually he had a meat case where he kept meats. Eventually he opened a meat market there and then he had another—he had a showcase then, he had a big showcase then. He had two back rooms to the store and he had a hall on the side which led to an entrance from the front of the store so you didn’t have to come through the store. One room was a storage room where he kept supplies, groceries, and so on. And he had one of the first automatic hot water heaters. When he built his new house, he had a bathtub and he had showers and he had instant heat, you know. It’s about so high, metal cabinet with copper coils and the water ran through the copper coils and then the gas was on a pilot and when the water started flowing the pilot flared up and began heating the coils and so you had instantaneous hot water.

  • Story from: Breibart, Solomon |
  • By the Seat of His Pants

    The cash register was about this big. I remember very well because when I was growing up, one of my first things I did in the store was make change. They would sell something and tell me to take out so much and make change for them. They didn’t keep any books. They didn’t keep any books whatsoever. He was just flying by the seat of his pants, you know. As he needed things he would order things. He would buy on credit and he gave credit too in the grocery store. He wrote down the credit but he didn’t have any ledgers for that. He had a spindle in the store on which he would write down what the person owed and stick it on there. And then he eventually gathered them all together and figured up what the person owed him. He used to have also—you may have seen in some of the stores—he had a cookie case. They’d be maybe about four feet tall and they would be able to put in there boxes, cookies with a glass covering that you open it and go in and take them out. Sold a lot of one-cent cookies and one-cent candies in the store. And it was a place usually, much more so later than earlier I think, that people used to come in and just schmooze, hang around the store, talk. They would just lean on the counter and talk. That was a time, I must have been about sixteen, seventeen years old, and there used to be some regulars who’d come in all the time, almost every night, drink a beer or two, stand around and schmooze, that’s all. And one worked at the Navy Yard and he used to tell them all the things that were going on at the Navy Yard that he didn’t think was right but he was a part of it. And there was one that used to work at the Clyde Line, the steamship company. He was also a butcher. A man named Siemers. Not Jewish. None of these were Jewish. We lived in a neighborhood that was just growing up back in those days.

  • Story from: Breibart, Solomon |
  • You call this lucky?

    When we moved from Yonges Island to Meeting Street, my mother told me that an insurance man came in—Mama’s social life was that all these salesmen would come in for their Coca-Cola and slice of bologna or whatever, and so she would become friends with them. So this Christian insurance man said, “Jews are just so lucky, so lucky. You send your children to college, I can’t send my children to college.” And my mother said, “You call this lucky? I wake up at five in the morning and I go to bed at twelve and one o’clock at night. You think I’m lucky?” I do remember just that. I do remember that.

  • Story from: Cohen, Dorothy ("Dutch") Idalin Gelson |
  • Thanksgiving

    [My mother] always said we were good children, that we didn’t—we weren’t extravagant. But then as we got older she bought us very nice clothes. I never had nice clothes going to college, but if there was a dance, or if I had a date, she was smart enough to know where to put her money. Thanksgiving my brother and sister and I had lovely clothes, we’d all have dates to a dance, Thanksgiving dance. At intermission, without any of us talking to the other one, we all showed up at the grocery store. I said to my date, “Do you mind if I go by to tell my mother and see how she is?” Anna did the same thing with her date. Leon did the same thing with his date. And none of us had checked, we just all showed up there. We kind of reinforced her. She got a lot out of life, but she worked very hard, and she reared us sort of—she didn’t let us slave in that store, you know.

  • Story from: Cohen, Dorothy ("Dutch") Idalin Gelson |
  • The Break-In

    So one time we were broken into, and Mama knew just who it was because she had heard voices downstairs. This is how we lived. Somebody broke in and just made a mess of the upstairs. My sister Anna happened to have a date that night with a Jewish fellow who owned a pawn shop, Roy Schraibman—somebody that was in a pawn shop. When we told him what was stolen—a watch or whatnot—the person came into his pawn shop the next day with the watch and stuff, so he called the police. Now, you know who went to court to represent us? I did. I was a freshman, maybe, in college, or maybe still in high school. A little girl. I knew where the court was, I went there. The mother of this black fellow worked for a very prominent family, and she was there with her employer, so you know what chance I had—but I described the whole thing and he got eighteen months, and then he came back in the store, he was a customer again.

  • Story from: Cohen, Dorothy ("Dutch") Idalin Gelson |
  • I Shot Mr. Rosen

    [My father] got held up one time—liquor stores were a target of all the criminals in those days—he got held up one time, but he wasn’t harmed. The next time he got held up, he was shot three times. None of them had hit a vital spot—it was a .22, so it wasn’t a powerful gun—and, of course, he was up talking to everybody the next day. Couple of friends went over to see him, they said, “We thought we’d just pay our respects, we couldn’t get away, he wanted to tell all these stories.” He had a narrow escape though. There were two guys. How they tracked them down and got them I’ll never know, but they got them, indicted them, were going to try them, and they pled guilty. I didn’t go to court when they pled guilty, because Bill Rose was the judge, and Bill Rose is a friend of mine, and I didn’t want Bill to think I was down there trying to put any pressure on him. The maximum they could get was thirty years, which is what he gave them. He gave them each thirty years. They came up for parole from time to time. I never did object or approve—they let the family know—but they didn’t parole them anyway. They served—Mark Tanenbaum met them in prison when he was in law school. [The shooter] said something about, “I shot Mr. Rosen.” He said, “I made a mistake in shooting a lawyer’s daddy. That’s why I’m still here.”

  • Story from: Rosen, Morris David |
  • The Letter Writer

    Sonny [Goldberg] tells a story about the time that Mr. Resnick called him to write a letter for him. Mr. Resnick couldn’t speak English too well. So he called Sonny up and says, “Sonny.” Sonny says, “Yes, Mr. Resnick?” Mr. Resnick says, “I want you to come by. I want you to write a letter for me.” So Sonny goes by. And Mr. Resnick starts dictating to him in Yiddish telling him that the merchandise he received from the man isn’t worth it. “It’s junk and it’s not worth even looking at.” Doesn’t want to keep it in his inventory and he wants to return it and he will keep some of the merchandise to cover the cost of the freight, in and out. Sonny starts to read the letter back to him. Mr. Resnick was very brutal. Sonny said, “Gentlemen.” Right away Mr. Resnick’s eyes just perked up. “The merchandise I recently received from your establishment is not the standard quality that my company is used to giving to its customers. Therefore we find it necessary to ask that you allow us to return said merchandise for credit and we will deduct a certain amount of merchandise to cover the cost of handling.” Mr. Resnick said, “Sonny, you’re the only person in the world that can write a letter exactly like I tell you.” Sonny would tell that story half in Yiddish and half in English at the Rotary Club and the goyim would crack up.

  • Story from: Sonenshine, Irving ("Itchy") |
  • A Thriving Business

    Well, it really became a clothing store in 1930. When he bought the store, he bought a building and it was on the corner of King and Market. The front of the store was rented, I think, it was either a hardware or grocery store and in the back there was a little very very sophisticated pawn shop and it was run by I. Dave Rubin who was a very lovely sophisticated man and he had a watch repair shop. And then my father hired a Mr. Goodman, who was a relative of the Livingstain family, which was a large family uptown that ran a pawn shop and a hardware store and what not. And he went to work and made the pawn shop a little bigger. And my brother and I when we got to be, you know, the age of six and eight, we loved to go down there because they had bicycles and they had shotguns. And it was a very interesting business. By the time we got into high school and college we decided that we didn’t particularly like being in the pawn shop business because it had a certain aroma that you were dealing, you know, with very poor people and then questionable people and people with all kind of self-imposed needs for money by ruthlessly or recklessly spending it and what not and having to sell everything but their soul to exist. Anyway, and that part of the business was finally—we got rid of [it], and then when we moved to King and Society, I mean we had there one of the largest operations, you know, of men’s and family clothing in the city of Charleston. When my bother and I got into, when we were sixteen or seventeen, when working was a full time deal with us, we would go to school in the morning, right from school to the store, and we stayed there till 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock at night, every night. Six days a week. And we loved it. My father was still running his business in Berkeley County and the store kept getting bigger and bigger. [When] Roosevelt came into his presidency in 1932, Charleston was in a huge depression and we were doing a thriving business. We were one of the few stores in the city of Charleston that put in a full line of outdoor clothing, hunting wear, and we hit a very sensitive cord. I mean everybody in Charleston aspired to be a duck hunter and a plantation owner. Anyway, when Roosevelt opened the civilian corps, conservation corps, which was the three “C” [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps, they put eligible people to work, in particular blacks. Well, that was the beginning, in my opinion, of the type of recognized assimilation of the blacks and whites, even though the blacks were separated even under the auspices of Roosevelt. But we restarted, we developed the uniform business. And that was in 1934 and 1935. And then from 1935 on, even though this country didn’t go to war, the whole world was preparing for war and the defense industry started picking up and we had a uniform business, one of the early uniform retailers in this part of the country. And when World War II hit we were one of the largest retail uniform companies in this part of the country and then we had become a recognizable purveyor of clothing. You know, sportswear, nothing super fancy, but it became a lot. We had, as I recollect it, we always had a line of work wear that was indigenous to the needs of people who worked in this community. So that meant we had the black people and the stevedores and the white people who had outside jobs that weren’t, you know, professionals. We had a modest amount of the beginning of what we call sportswear. And we still always had back-to-school things. That was a nice little business. And the store kept growing and we were the L.L. Bean of Charleston, we were the Banana Republic of Charleston.

  • Story from: Dumas, Abe |
  • Success Story

    My grandfather and my father had wholesale tobacco, drugstores around the state. They had one in Charleston, the original one in Charleston, Columbia, had a place in Beaufort, had a place in Greenville. They would open a store in Fairfax, South Carolina, for instance, which was a rail head. In those days as the railroad moved along, workers were a good source of customers. So my mother went to Fairfax, South Carolina, and she was there about six months, a year, before she was married, and she ran that place. And eventually the rail head moved on, it went to some place in Savannah, or whatever. When repeal of prohibition occurred in ’37, they had distribution around the state of tobacco, so they opened a whiskey distribution place because we had the distribution network set up and that was in Columbia. You could only have one location. So, my father, he ran that. He used to commute, and commuting in those days was not like it is today on the interstate. It would take four and a half, five hours to drive to Charleston from Columbia. So, eventually, we moved to Columbia so he could do that business. All those other branches were closed later. And then, right towards the end of World War II, my grandfather’s only son wanted to take a more prominent role in the business and so forth, so my grandfather and my father split up. My grandfather’s family, son-in-law and son, Max Levine and Izzie, took the tobacco business, and my father took the liquor business, and they each ran their businesses.

  • Story from: Arnold, Norman J. |
  • The Ridgeland Store

    The meat department was in the rear of the store. My father cut the meat. In those days, you didn’t have any packaging material. You cut it as they bought it. The canned goods and so forth were on one side. The cloth and buttons and patterns and all that stuff—they were on the other side. The candy counter was way in the back and you couldn’t see me so—that was where I worked in the store. In those days—you probably may have heard—the refrigeration was like ammonia gas. It was not like it is today. It was some kind of ammonia gas that kept cool, not really cold, but just cool. Then he used to buy some of the produce from the farm or they used to exchange. They would bring in the vegetables and take the hardware or whatever—barter. [His clients were] black and white—everybody. Even the plantation owners who came down from the North; one of his friends was a scion of the Drexel family from Philadelphia. He used to come in, and Daddy would be in the back, and he would punch the button to the cash register. “Sammy, I’m taking five dollars.” “I’m taking ten dollars.” He got his check from Philadelphia, from the Drexel Trust. My father would go with him to Savannah to the bank to get his check but also to get his money. So, you said, who were the clientele? It was just, like, everybody.

  • Story from: Ullman, Albert Jacob |
  • Playing in the Coffins

    [My father] had a store that was a block long. He sold shoes and clothing, groceries. He had a mule yard, a yard where he sold mules. Papa had an interest in a cotton gin. He also sold coffins. There were no undertakers in Moncks Corner at that time. I remember playing in the coffins, Paul and myself. We had a colored man by the name of Mac Makelvy—he was a big man and a strong man, but very superstitious. And one day Paul and I got into a coffin back in the warehouse which was attached to the store with a sort of a platform from the back door of the store to the back door of the warehouse where the coffins where. And we got in that and when Mac came in to get a sack of sugar of something, we raised up [laughing] and started moaning and he almost died

  • Story from: Read, Joseph David |
  • The Scrap Business

    My father probably was the neatest, most proud man you ever met. Abraham Addlestone. I assume what happened when my dad came as a greenhorn to register, his name could have been Adelstein or something similar to that and it became Addlestone. I guess that’s the way they registered him. Evidently, it’s a well known name in England. I think he came to this country because he didn’t feel like England was—had too many restrictions on Jews in those days. My dad peddled a while and then he worked for I.M. Pearlstine & Sons. Then, I think he decided he was going into the scrap business. He had dabbled a little bit in England in scrap, and he lasted about two months in it [here]. My daddy should have been a rabbi. He was not a businessman. He probably was the worst businessman. He couldn’t take the pressure of business. The scrap business in those years was a pretty rough business. I’ll give you an illustration of what kind of businessman my dad was. He had heard that there was a scrap dealer in Sumter, South Carolina who wanted to go out of business, so he moved to Sumter first before he tried to buy him out. When he moved to Sumter, the fellow wouldn’t talk to him. So, he went in the scrap business [himself] in March—the first of March, 1930. Before September, he was completely broke. That was the Depression. He didn’t have ten cents. He had a lease on our house for a year, but he didn’t go to the man and try to break the lease. What he did was he rented a little country grocery store in the black neighborhood, with a couple of rooms on it. He rented it. He went into the local wholesale grocer company called Croswell & Company and told them he wanted to open a grocery store. He wanted $500 worth of credit. He would pay for everything after that with cash, and he would pay off the $500 as he got a little better position. He gave them some references in Charleston and a week later they called him up and told him to come in, and they opened the store for him. So, my mother ran the store and he had a little scrap yard with one man working for him. In those days, this one man would be cutting up automobile chasses with a hacksaw. If you told me somebody could do something like that, I’d think you were crazy. That’s all the tools he had. He had nothing. Then, my dad went up to North Carolina in one of the textile plants and he bought remnants from print plants. At night, he and my mother would pack these into two-pound, four-pound bundles of scrap. It was all kind of colors. The women made comfort covers out of it, you know, rag things, patchwork. He sold those all over South Carolina to the country stores, my father did, because there was no scrap business in those days. And my mother ran the store

  • Story from: Addlestone, Nathan S. |
  • The Commissary

    My dad opened a store in Strawberry as a commissary for a big lumber company. I still remember the name of it, Lenox & Cannon Lumber Company. A big saw mill that had railroad lines running and everything else. Strawberry was a little stop on the Atlantic Coastline Railroad which is CSX today. In the old days every big farmer or plant or lumber company had commissaries. They would advance groceries and goods in the store against salaries. I know my dad had to give the lumber company a percentage of his sales for the privilege of running it. They collected all his bills and everything. I think the profits were pretty big, too. You know, the lumber companies charged a big fee, I’m sure. He ran a store there with everything—you name it. Those days they used to come with their wives on Saturdays from ten or twelve miles away and buy butt meat, flour and sugar and rice by the fifty-pound packages. They didn’t buy those small packages. They came in once every month or so for groceries and clothes. Either [they paid in] script or they had accounts. They paid off every two weeks. He would take it in to the mill and they would pay him and deduct it from the salaries. And then the mill burnt down and he opened a store in Oakley which is on Highway 52, six miles south of Moncks Corner.

  • Story from: Addlestone, Nathan S. |
  • Hell Hole

    My mother got tired of living in the country, practically running one of the stores, and she wanted to move back to the city. I guess my father couldn’t move back to Charleston at the time. He was a very proud person, and while he was living in Berkeley County—Berkeley County was the seat of all the bootlegging in South Carolina in those days. Hell Hole was the seat of all the gangs there. The Vilponteaux, which was a French family, and the MacKnights—like the Hatfields and McCoys—they were killing one another, fighting all the time. When I was in high school in Moncks Corner, they ambushed Senator Rembert Dennis right in front of the post office and killed him. I can remember being in school one day. Only way to get into Moncks Corner was across the railroad track at the station, that was the only entrance to town from this side, [and] all the big freight trains were passing by. The Vilponteaux were chasing the MacKnights, or one or the other, and when they got there they couldn’t move because [there was a] big freight train [with] a couple hundred cars, and they had a shoot-out there. They killed four or five people right on the street, when we were in school. It was like the Wild West. They all drove Hudson Super 6s, with a gas tank about that wide, for bootlegging.

  • Story from: Addlestone, Nathan S. |
  • A Broken Heart

    None of the sons wanted to go into the [family] business. The business went to a cousin, Shanks, who was my great aunt’s sister’s Baum Brothers’ Department Store, 1898husband. And Shank Brothers, they changed the name to Shank Brothers, and they ran the store until the closing of it. I remember the closing of it very much. It was such an old-fashioned store, you know, and they used to have the registers in the center and they’d put [the money] in a little basket and they’d send it up to the cashier. I mean it would go by pulling on a rope or something. And I thought it was fascinating. I remember they closed it and I thought everything was for free. I was so young then. And I remember getting a little box, a little round hat box, a small one, and I said, “Oh, I want this,” and I started to take it out of the store and my cousin Leonard Shanks said, “You can’t have that, we have to sell it,” and that broke my heart.

  • Story from: Baum, Norman E. |
  • The Pawn Shop

    My uncle was an inveterate gambler. I remember he once took me to the Elks Club, where he played table-stakes poker, with up to one thousand dollars on the table. This was back in the early ’20s. He gambled on the stock market I think, without telling my dad, and in 1929 that helped push the company, which had been very successful, into bankruptcy. My dad put my mother and my sister, Kay, who now lives in New Orleans, and me in our Hupmobile and drove two hundred miles to Greenville and opened a hole-in-the-wall pawnshop. He worked awfully hard and gradually did well. Those were the days when chain stores were proliferating. My dad couldn’t compete against installment plan jewelry stores, clothing, and shoe stores: Stein Brothers, Thom McAn. A pawnshop was something that nobody else was doing and he hired an old pawn broker from Columbia and ran that store almost until he died at [age] eighty-four, four years into retirement. He was born in August 1888 and died, of a stroke, in July 1971, six months after my mother. She had been quite ill for a long time and I think that when she died he felt that his life’s work had been done. That’s an assumption on my part but, in his last years, he was weary and with my mother sick we always had a colored woman in the house to cook, clean and take care of my mother. As soon as Dad closed the store, he was on the bus for home. That was his life, day in and day out. One thing about my father that was terribly important to me—and I hope that some of it has rubbed off; I’ve tried to have it rub off on my two children and four grandsons—his word was totally his bond. He never made a promise unless at the time of making the promise he knew he would be able to deliver on it. No monkey business. We were talking about that once. He had no use for people who make a promise to you and then when it’s time to deliver they say, “Morris, I’ve had reverses in the business, or my wife has been ill, I can’t, in effect, deliver on the promise.” That was an anathema to him. When you made a promise to him he expected you to deliver on it. He was a highly ethical man in a tough business. Some guy came in once, he wanted to buy a watch, let’s say, and my dad couldn’t give it to him at the price the man wanted. As the man was walking out he said, “You people deserve exactly what Hitler did to you.” My dad said, “Would you wait there just a minute?” He went back to the office, he was a short man, probably four inches shorter than I, maybe five, five-three, five-four. He kept a Luger in the office, since pawnshops are vulnerable. He picked up the gun but kept it out of sight. Walking up to the man, he stuck the Luger in his gut and said, “Would you please repeat what you just said and when you do I’m going to put a bullet right through you.” The guy turned white, shaking, and backed out of the store. But Dad made his point. He wouldn’t have shot the man, for God’s sake, but the man didn’t know that.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |
  • The Bed

    We had a girl called Sadie and she was working for us. My mother taught her how to cook. She used to work for my mother. And she bought a set of furniture from [a dealer on King Street]. How many years do you think that poor schvartzer paid for that? She must have paid that man a dollar every week for ten years. That’s how they got rich. These poor ignorant schvartzers! You think they were religious, but they were dishonest. I don’t call that being a good Jew. I never did. In fact, when I got older and Sadie brought me the receipts, I’m not exaggerating, she had a box this big and this high with dollar receipts in them that [the merchant] had given her. I said, “Sadie,” I says, “My God, what did you buy for all that?” She said, “I bought a bed!” He had the nerve to come to my mother one day after I talked to Sadie—I think it was about a week afterwards, and Sadie was upstairs—and I says “Sir,” I says, “You looking for Sadie?” He says, “Yes, she gives me a dollar every week.” By then, I had taken—we had the grocery store downstairs—I had taken the box downstairs. I says, “How much did Sadie—” I didn’t tell him I had the box. I says, “How much did that bed cost?” He told me. I says, “You know what I could do if I wanted to? I can add up every dollar, and I can make you give her every penny back that you took from that poor schvartzer.” I never saw him again. He never came back. That’s how [he] got rich. You don’t think he’d got that rich from being honest, do you?

  • Story from: Grauer, Bella Goldman |
  • Dillon County

    Dillon is about a hundred years old, I imagine. They had the mercantile stores and they gave the farmers credit and it was a big business. If the farmers made money, they got paid. If they didn’t, they’d go bankrupt. It was one of those things that was up and down, either a feast or famine.

  • Story from: Schafer, Joseph M. |