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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 couldnt get home before Shabbos started so he stopped at a farmers 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 JewishI dont work on my Sabbath and I dont work my animal. The man told him, You dont look Jewish. You dont have horns.
[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.
At sixteen years old my father was teaching Hebrewthats 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-lawbefore 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.
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. Theyd already sent it to the house. He was very impressed by that.
The Thing to Do
Typically in those days, you know, the Jews were unskilled, didnt have any degrees or any professional life. Theyd 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 washe was forced into doing things that he really was not qualified to do and yet he didnt have any professional training to do anything else. You dont 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 didnt know how, so he never survived any long-term business.
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 thats where he would weigh the fish. The store was located just across the street from Mr. Robinsons 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.
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 goodspots, pansand next trip they would bring it to them. I think one of the interesting thingsthere was a store here called Solomons, 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 Mazos 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 youve never heard in your life. I mean, you could not tell he wasnt European. He would converse with all the refugeesimmigrants, rather, in those daysin Yiddish. I remember him as a kid as a nicecoal-black, but one of the nicest fellows you ever met, and he was the head salesman for Solomons with the immigrants.
Im 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 oneit was Christmas weekendhe 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, Im not cut out for selling shoes. He said, But Im happy with you. I said, I feel morally obligated to stay with you till you get a respectable replacement. Ill 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 wasntand 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 Streetthe bank still exists but in a different nameand 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 wouldnt 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 dont ask for a thousand. You ask for two thousand. Hell turn you down and hell 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 didnt. 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, youve got to do two things. Number one, transfer your account here. I said, Thats 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.
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 didnt have the interstate.
He had an old car in those days. I dont know what kind of car or how he got around that well. As I say Im very sorry I never asked more questions. But when he came here he had his meals at Rabbi Kareshs. [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 StreetI am going to say where the AT&T building is now. Across from the capitol. But he didnt stay in that long. That wasnt 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 didnt make any difference. We took in mens clothing, jewelry, of course, and luggage. Anything like that.
The Promise of King Street
I think that that is what the appeal was for many JewsKing 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.
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 Zuckers father and thats Bubba Zuckers father also. Im trying to think who else. Across the streetI remember when they came to Charlestonwas 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, Id 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 Jakes, mens 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, Edwards. Most of them were Jewish merchants. On Saturday you couldnt buy a piece of furniture; you couldnt buy clothing. The stores were closed in Charleston. You couldnt buy anything on Saturdays. Of course, later on you could, but Im talking about in the early 30s and late 30s. Seems like the war changed everything in Charleston.
The Bicycle Business
Bicycle businesses as most businesses in Charleston, particularly in those days, they handled bicycles and toys. Youre familiar with Toys-R-Us today? Well, thats 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. Wed go on a trip, we took some money, Dad gave us some money. Thats what we did.
He Could Never Be a Peddler
When we got to Charleston my father had already established a lovely home for usmy brother was there tooand 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 cant have that and get along in this country.
My father thought if you couldnt 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 beI mean, he just didnt 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 successhe was not.
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.
The First Sale
The oldest department store in Charleston, Jewish, was Furchgotts. They were Reform Jews. He opened up a very fine ladies ready-to-wear store in Charleston. It was called Herberts, downtown. Right after I quit my jobI only worked a few weeks because I could not walk three milesthere 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 didnt have to work on Saturday.
When he hired me, the office was in the center of the storethats the way Charleston used to be, they dont have that now. So this girl came in [to Herberts]. She was a friend of my sister Annies, her name was Goodman. She was Theresa Livingstains first cousin, and she was fat, she wore about an eighteen dress. And this clerkher name was Maybelle Kennedy, I can still remembershe was trying to keep on telling her, Buy a black dress or a navy cause youre stout, it will make you look thinner, and she didnt like it. I called over my boss and I said, Mr. Benjamin, if you let me go over there and help that girland thats the first time I ever sold in my lifeI can sell her a dress. And they had expensive clothes, in that time, like 150 dollar dresses. He says, Well, go ahead and try, Ill tell Maybelle youll give her the commission because you dont 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 dont know human nature, but I know her nature, she didnt want a black or a navy dress.
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 didnt 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 Bennetts school and he worked. He went to work.
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 werent 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 didnt play in the street. He did not like that. He didnt like all the little Jewish boys congregating in the street shooting marbles. He thought they ought to be inside.
A Very Large Shoe Store
My father had at one time a very large shoe store. As big as Morris Sokol Furniture Companyit 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 wouldnt sell it to him. He had an interesting storehe 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 childrens shoes to try on.
My mother, unless she helped her mother in Branchville, never helped in a store in her life. I dont 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 womens side. See, in the front, on the right hand side were the mens 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 didnt have electric clocks those days. He also had an old time cash registertoday it would be worth a fortunemade 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 machineI think it was before 1910he 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, Ive heard of such a thing as a mechanical adding machine. I ought to try to buy one. It wasnt 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, Im selling adding machines. Im taking orders and shipping from the factory. My father said, Let me see a sample. He said, All Ive 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 dont know. It was on a stand, thirty inches high. He asked how much it was. He told him.
My father said, Ill take it. Mr. Knobloch told my father, he says, Youre going to take it? Just like that? You know, you are the first person Ive called on to try to sell these adding machines and you buy one in less than two minutes. I dont know whether I ought to continue this work or not. Its just too easy! You know, I ought to quit while Im 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 didnt have enough money to stock the business right. That was in l930. A man named Joseph came down with a carload of socks which werent seconds or even thirdsthey 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 wasnt 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 dont know if they washed them. They threw them away.
That August, Mr. Joseph came into my fathers 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 didnt 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 nowthe mens 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. Thats 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 couldnt 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 oldthat 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.
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 oclock in the morning. You worked on Saturday. You went to work at eight-thirty and you worked till twelve oclock and that was the nature of the beast. You either worked those hours or you didnt 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. Its like he was reborn again. He didnt 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 oclock. And there were shoppers there, too. My father would open on Sunday morning for a while. You know, one thing about opening, you dont know whos going to walk in. I have the same theory there. You shut down, youve got nothing. You know youre going to get nothing. You stay open, you dont know whats going to come in.
You had several Goldbergs [who closed for Shabbos]. There was Sonnys 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.
Havent spoken English today.
My father had a sense of humor that was really something else. I dont know if youve ever heard this story, but his favorite expressoin wasif you asked how business was, he would tell you in Yiddish, Ich hab nicht der erster word in English gesprochen,which means I havent spoken the first word of English yet today. He hadnt had a customer.
Next door to my fathers store was the Fechtersthey had a hardware store. Down the street from the Fechters, about two doors, was another Ellison. There was Haskells father, he had a shoe store. Across the street was the Read Brothers, Firetag, Mr. Goldberg or Geldbart, and then Mr. Alec Ellison, Shera Lees 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 theyre 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.
The Cash Register
Ill tell you this much. I went to work, the first job I had, I went to work at eight oclock Saturday morning, worked till one oclock 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 wasnt figuring I was taking out forty cents. They checked that register that night and it was nine dollars short. They went ballistic. They sworeI 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 couldnt stand on my feet. I went home. Ill 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 didnt need me anymore.
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. Hed call me and I would jump. What are you jumping for? Relax. Im not going to knock your head off. He was really a gentleman. As I told you, the story with the money, if Id done that with any other boss, Id have been history.
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. Id come downtown every morning around ten, ten-thirty, and wed go across the street to Gaineys 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, were in the wrong end of this business. Were struggling to make a dollar and this man is making hundreds of dollars.
Saturdays at 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 wouldnt 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, wed 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.
Youll 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 synagogueshul. Whether he worked that afternoon or not I dont 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 didnt 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 openwide 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 dont care how much money you have, youll never have enough. He still didnt go back to the store.
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 didnt have the money, Otto Fox would leave a few dollars. They were sick. Hed 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 couldnt pay that they paid him a watermelon. See. We worked together. They didnt 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 didnt 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 didnt have a phone and they came and took the record out.
Laufers Kosher Restaurant
There wereit might have been different timestwo 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 were in, fourteen by fourteen, twelve by twelve, something. And wed eat occasionally there or wed eat at the Greenbergs. My mother was an excellent cook and shed 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 Berleshe 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 mothers restaurant, she enjoyed it, but finally Mrs. Laufer bought Mrs. Greenberg out. Helens father ran a little mens 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 centsappetizer, 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 thingsif 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, hed 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 didnt 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 didnt 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? Its meat that they would boil and make soups with and shed serve him a big [portion]. Delicious with horseradish. I dont eat meat now because of cholesterol, but I remember she would serve him large portions.
I remember that people would come in [to Laufers 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.
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 Banovs 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.
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 didnt have to come back two weeks later. My father would custom-make suitsI see bolts of cloth here [in the photo]. But my father kept an immaculate store. He was a very orderly individual.
Yes, [my grandfathers store] was called Noahs Ark. Id 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, hed buy it and resell it, and he had some new merchandiseit 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 laughedshe used to buy these dishes from the dime store and shed hand paint them herself with paint and the tourists would want to buy them. I think we have one left and my sisters 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 movedboy, if that wasnt something, moving that daggone store to 586. It was a block away, but they changed one number. From 585 to 586.
[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 manyI call em shackshow many were there. The streetcar used to run almost up to McCarthys, used to run right to there. Wed get off there and walk to her property and collect the rent and come back. That was a Sunday morning deal.
[My dad] was the forerunner of what is today public relations, because he was very talented in making signs. You know, signs werent just printed in those days. They either were handmade or you just didnt have one. And Dad did that real well. He did what we callwhen 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 undercapitalizedhad the right enthusiasm, but in those days it was tough and he happened not to be one of the lucky ones, thats all that survived. He always ended working for somebody. His last real job was with Kerrisons 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.
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.
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, sugarnot 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 upshe 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.
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 couldnt wait to build this, what was then regarded as one of the very very lovely houses of Charleston up there. I dont 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 theyre 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.
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 didnt 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 didnt 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 himit drove me up the wall because it wasnt really right; he wasnt 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.
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