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Store Stories

Joseph M. Schafer, b. 1928, Dillon, S.C.   If the farmers made money, they got paid; if they didn’t, they’d go bankrupt.

George Chaplin, b. 1914, Columbia, S.C.   Well, it was different in those days, you know. Jews were unskilled. They didn’t have any degrees or any professional life. They had to open a store, whether a grocery store or dry goods or furniture or general merchandise, and that was the thing to do.

Abel Banov, b. 1929, Charleston, S.C.   That is the 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 the next thing you know they’re building a house out in the suburbs.

Irving (“Itchy”) Sonenshine, b. 1921, Charleston, S.C.   People on King Street lived over their stores in those days. The Breibarts lived over their stores. The Feldmans lived over their stores up on Meeting Street. Everybody lived over their stores, practically. Of course you know in those days, it was almost a seven-day work week.

Libby Friedman Levinson, b. 1909,Trestina, Poland, d. 2000, Columbia, S.C.   This girl came in and she was a friend of my sister Annie’s and she was fat. She wore about an eighteen dress, you know. And this clerk, her name was Annabelle 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. And I called over my boss and I said, “Mr. Benjamin,” I says, “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 he said, “Well, go ahead and try. I’ll tell Maybelle you’ll give her the commission cause you don’t work on the floor.” And I did sell her a beautiful dress. I sold her a pretty printed silk dress. And he said to me, “I want you to work on the floor.” 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.”

Klyde Robinson, b. 1922, Charleston, S.C.   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 the 15th I would take leave, vacation time, from those positions and go down to the store and work.

Robert M. Zalkin, b. 1925, Charleston, S.C.   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, yes, you could, but I’m talking about in the early ’30s and the late ’30s. It seems like the war changed everything in Charleston.

Solomon Breibart, b. 1914, Charleston, S.C.
Dale Rosengarten, b. 1948, New York, N.Y.
SB: They didn’t keep any books.
DR: No books?
SB: They didn’t keep any books whatsoever. I guess they were flying by the seat of his pants.

Helen Laufer Dwork Berle, b. 1923, Charleston, S.C.
Maurice Berle, b. 1916, Bronx, N.Y.
HB: I think I got to know everybody in this city from people coming into the restaurant. Of course during the war I think there wasn’t a Jewish officer, sailor, Coast Guard that didn’t come into the restaurant to eat. And a lot of those fellows met Charleston girls and they got married.
MB: Quite a few.
HB: Quite a few.

George Chaplin, b. 1914, Columbia, S.C.        Some guy came in once and wanted to buy a watch, let’s say, and my dad couldn’t give it to him at the price the man wanted. As he was walking out, the man said, “You guys deserved exactly what Hitler did to you.” My dad said, “Well, 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. He was around 5’3” or 5’4”. He kept a Luger in the office. He kept it out of sight, walked 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, blanched, and backed out of the store, but my dad made his point. He wouldn’t have shot that man, for God’s sakes, but the man didn’t know that—that kind of a guy.

Irving (“Itchy”) Sonenshine, b. 1921, Charleston, S.C.    My father had a sense of humor that was really something else. I don’t know if you heard this story, but if you asked him how business was he would tell you in Yiddish, “Heint hab ich nit gesprochen ein wort English,” which means, “I haven’t spoken the first word of English yet today.” He hadn’t had a customer.

Music
CUT: “Sweet Lorraine” CUT: “Smiles”
COMPOSER: Parish-Burell COMPOSER: Roberts-Calahan
ALBUM TITLE:  Benny Goodman Trio & Quartet/Avalon - The Small Bands, Volume 2 (1937-1939) ALBUM TITLE: Benny Goodman Trio & Quartet/Avalon - The Small Bands, Volume 2 (1937-1939)
ARTIST: Benny Goodman Trio ARTIST: Benny Goodman Trio
LABEL/CATALOG # BMG Bluebird / 2273-2-RB (liner notes show original catalog # is BS-021625-1/ Vic 25822) LABEL/CATALOG # BMG Bluebird / 2273-2-RB (liner notes show original catalog # is BS-021625-1/ Vic 25822)
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Last updated: Monday, September 08, 2014