D. Poliakoff, the dry goods store opened in 1900 by my grandfather David Poliakoff, was in business on historic Court Square in Abbeville, South Carolina, for more than 100 years, from February 19, 1900 to August 26, 2000. The intertwined histories of the store and the Abbeville Poliakoffs are reflected in the documents and images attached to and/or referenced in this article, including the 1995 edition of D. Poliakoff Times, marking the store’s 95th anniversary. And yet there remain boxes of unexplored documents, invoices, price lists, and ledgers that still await review.
Official records in the State Historical Archives of Belarus contain references to David Poliakoff as “David-Shmuel” of shtetl Kamen. An 1865 document records that David’s grandfather Mendel, …“petty bourgeois of shtetl Kamen, owns a wooden home with thatched roof and a barn”. An 1882 document listing licensed melameds (Jewish religion teachers) records that David’s father Itsko was licensed to teach Torah and that he had 7 students (listed in the document) who each paid annual tuition of 10 rubles. A May 2, 1893 passport application records that “David-Shmuel, son of Itsko Poliakoff, petty bourgeois of shtetl Kamen, 20 years old, soldier in reserve, Jew, single, applied for foreign passport, purpose of the trip is to earn money”. And a June 17, 1893 register of passports states that David paid a 20 rubles fee and received a foreign passport.
A few brittle wholesaler invoices addressed to “Poliakoff Brothers, Clifton, SC,” some in Yiddish, remain from the years David Poliakoff was in business with his brother Mendel, 1894 to 1898, first in Clifton (near Spartanburg), then in Gaffney, SC. During 1898-1899 he was in Aiken County. Family lore has it that David was a peddler who initially picked McCormick, SC, to open his own store and paid the first month’s rent, but quickly decided to settle in Abbeville.1Jewish Heritage Collection, College of Charleston, May 1, 1995 interview of Rosa Poliakoff (hereinafter referred to as “Jewish Heritage Collection interview of Rosa Poliakoff”) available at http://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:86550 Years later, in an interview for a November 1937 Abbeville Press and Banner article titled “Poliakoff’s Next to Oldest Firm in Abbeville,” he said he came to Abbeville after leaving his brother S. (Samuel) Poliakoff in Graniteville, SC. Abbeville’s population had more than doubled between 1890 and 1900, perhaps a reason he decided to settle there.