For more than 300 years Jewish people have made their homes in South Carolina. Welcomed as traders and merchants, they settled first in Charleston, Georgetown, and Beaufort, but soon looked beyond the port cities for opportunities to sell goods and set up shop. After 1865, Jewish merchants—many of German origin—filled gaps on main streets decimated by the Civil War. Arriving in the mass immigration of East European Jews to America that began in 1881, newcomers trickled south, supplied and guided by regional wholesalers and local jobbers. By 1900, Jewish-owned stores were fixtures on downtown streets in cities large and small, and in small towns across the state. More than 100 years later, few of the founding families remain behind the counter, but the pioneer generation lives on in the memories of the descendants.
Launched in 2016 by the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina, the Jewish Merchant Project aims to document these stories through a statewide survey, an online map showing the locations of stores, illustrated narratives, and an exhibition.
The Jewish Merchant Project is supported by the generosity of the Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Foundation and the Stanley B. Farbstein Endowment at the Coastal Community Foundation. Longtime members of the JHSSC, Mr. Arnold obm, a merchant himself, and Mr. Farbstein obm were both children of South Carolina Jewish merchants.