Banov And Volaski

Banov And Volaski Ad From City Directory

Before the Francis Marion Hotel occupied 383–385 King Street in Charleston, South Carolina, a major men’s clothing store called Banov & Volaski inhabited the spot. The business, which specialized in high quality merchandise and occupied a prime retail location, was owned by Isaac Wolf Banov, a cousin of mine, and Joseph A. Volaski.

Isaac Wolf (or Wolfe) Banov was born in 1862 in Orlinka, Suwalki Gubernia, Russian Empire (now Orlinek, Poland), the first son of Israel Leib/Lev Bonowitz (1842–1925), who was called Israel Banov in America. When Wolf emigrated in 1883 he was the first Banov/Banovitch to come to the United States. On June 25, 1889, Wolf married Hannah Volaski (1962–1955), a schoolteacher, in Savannah.

Initially, Wolf had a tailor shop on King Street. In July 1892, he formed a partnership with Hannah’s half-brother Joseph Volaski and established the clothing and tailoring business of Banov & Volaski at the northwest corner of King and Calhoun. In addition to men’s clothing, the store sold furnishings, hats, shoes, and children’s apparel. As was common at the time, Wolf and his family lived in the rear of the building at 383 King Street. Wolf and Hannah would have six children: Leon (1890–1978); Carolyn (also known as Carrie) (1893–1984); Ellis (1895–1979); Ethel (1896–1997); Bertha (“Buddie”) (1899–1992); and Jack (1901–1996).

Joseph Volaski was born on December 25, 1864, in Columbia, South Carolina. He married Agnes Berkman (1869–1969) of Charleston in 1890 in Savannah, where he was a watchmaker before coming to Charleston. They lived at 31 George Street and had a daughter, Corinne (1891–1954), who never married. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Rabbi Barnet Elzas listed Joseph Volaski as one of Charleston’s leading Jewish merchants and citizens.

In an oral history recorded in 1996, Abel Banov stated that Banov & Volaski was “the biggest, best-known clothing store in the state.”1 At one point the store had 40 employees.2 The store used fanciful language in its advertising. For example, in 1895, Banov & Volaski ran ads in the Charleston newspapers declaring:

YOU HAVE NO IDEA
Of the cuts we have made in all our departments. Owing to the
extensive demand we have had on our medium priced goods this
season we are entirely sold out in that class of goods, and now
substitute
OUR FINER GRADES
at same prices.

The ad offered blue unfinished worsted suits for $6, instead of $8.50; grey serge suits for $5.50, reduced from $7.75; and Never-Rip Pants from 75¢ up.

An ad in the 1902 City Directory proclaimed that Banov & Volaski were

Pioneers in Popular Priced
MERCHANT TAILORING
Perfect in Fit Best in Quality Cheapest in Price

***
Remember at our Establishment you will always obtain

THE MAXIMUM OF VALUE

At…

A MINIMUM OF PRICE

According to Mapping Jewish Charleston, an online exhibit created under the auspices of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture at the College of Charleston:

By 1898, Banov & Volaski was a “well-known and popular house” with a branch store at the corner of King and Spring streets [where Sam Banov later had his own store] and employed forty-two people, thirty of them tailors, making it the largest tailoring department in South Carolina. The business offered men’s clothing, ready-to-wear as well as custom fit; hats, shoes, and accessories; and a mail order department for their loyal out-of-town patrons.3

Wolf was involved in five financial institutions in Charleston. In 1894, he helped organize—and became a director of—the Merchants’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Charleston. In May 1895, he became a director of a new company, Protective Fire Insurance Company of Charleston, located at 49 George Street, which seems to have lost its license by May 1897. He was also involved in finance, becoming a director of the new Aetna Building and Loan Association of Charleston in 1894, and in 1897, joining with others to create an apparent competitor, the Royal Building and Loan Association. A 1900 advertisement for the Beneficial Life Insurance Company of Charleston listed Wolf as a director. He also bought and sold real estate in Charleston. 

Banov and Volaski were active civically and politically as well. In 1898, Wolf was one of the representatives of Upper King Street on a city fall festival committee. The following year, as announced in the Evening Post, he was among the men who qualified to vote in the Democratic primary and general election. In 1901, he was elected as an officer in the local Knights of Pythias lodge. 

Wolf Banov and Joseph Volaski were observant Jews who closed their store on Shabbat and for the holidays of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot. In 1895, 1899, and 1901, they were on Purim Ball committees for the Hebrew Benevolent Society. A 1901 notice in the News and Courier proclaimed that the balls “are always both a social and financial success. But if it is possible the coming ball will surpass previous ones in point of splendor and elegance.” In 1911, Brith Sholom congregation elected Volaski president.4

Banov cousins of Wolf also worked at the store. Samuel Leizer (Sam) Banov (1869–1933) clerked there before starting his own businesses. Sam had gone from Suwalki to Manchester, England, to Fall River, Massachusetts, where he was living when Wolf asked him to join Banov & Volaski as a tailor. Eventually Sam established his own businesses—Banov’s clothing store and Uncle Sam’s pawn shop—further north on King Street. 

Hyman Simon Banov (1874–1959), who had a short-lived store in Georgetown with my great-grandfather Alexander Banov, also worked for Banov & Volaski before moving to Pittsburgh. Charles Banov (1880–1957), who married his first cousin Rebecca, Leon Banov’s sister, worked for the store for a while before moving to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he opened a jewelry business. In the late 1890s, Cassell Banov (1880–1954), an older brother of Dr. Leon Banov, also worked at Banov & Volaski before moving to Manchester, England. 

According to Abel Banov, the Banov & Volaski store “had a very seminal influence on a lot of successful business” in Charleston by employing not only Sam Banov, but also Sam Berlin and Jack Krawcheck, as salesmen for their store. Abel said that Wolf liked to hire “handsome guys”! Berlin and Krawcheck went on, of course, to establish stores carrying fine menswear. 

Circa 1903, Wolf moved to New York City, where he became a clothing manufacturer. Abel Banov described his professional progression: “struggle, get started, build a big store, build a big business, sell out, and move to the big city, where [he] bec[a]me a big entrepreneur in clothing.” Both Wolf and Joseph had a business interest in New York. In 1895, they backed former Charlestonian Aaron Garfunkel’s bid to open a wholesale business on Canal Street in Manhattan. The men were related: Aaron’s aunt, Betty Volaski Garfunkel, was Joseph’s sister. Two years later, Aaron Garfunkel & Co. reorganized and moved to 543 Broadway, calling the company Broadway Bargain House. (The new name was inspired by Hornik’s Bargain House of Charleston.) Broadway Bargain House was a mail-order house selling low-priced men’s and women’s clothing. It advertised in newspapers across the South. However, in March 1904, Wolf withdrew from that company after Garfunkel lost Banov and Volaski’s capital by diverting it into cotton futures that failed.5

In January 1903, Banov & Volaski advertised a “GREAT INVENTORY SALE” with bargain prices. Then, on March 30, 1903, Volaski offered his store for rent as an “elegant modern Store, one of the best stands on King Street.” Perhaps the store was available because Wolf had left for New York. However, I can’t find a record of the building being rented to anyone else, and Volaski continued to advertise merchandise at Banov & Volaski’s 383–385 King Street store. 

The 1912 New York City directory identified Wolf with a clothing company at 620 Broadway. By 1915, he was in partnership with Simon Tombacher (1867–1937) in Tombacher & Banov, which manufactured and sold men’s and boys’ clothing. (Tombacher was born in Augustow, which was in the old Suwalki Gubernia, and he had lived in Darlington, South Carolina, before moving to New York.) Banov and Volaski also invested in another of Garfunkel’s ventures, The Sanitary Clothing Company. 6

Meanwhile, back in Charleston, Volaski continued to operate the store under the original Banov & Volaski name, selling men’s and boys’ clothing. In April 1904, Volaski placed an ad for Banov & Volaski in the News and Courier that began, “This firm, established in 1891, under the co-partnership of I. Wolf Banov and Joseph A Volaski on a modest scale, have by honest endeavor, close application and up-to-date business methods, made a phenomenal success in business and a name which is a household word throughout the State.” During his tenure as owner, Volaski advertised frequently in the Charleston newspapers. One interesting ad in the Evening Post, promoted buying men’s bathing suits: “It is far better than renting a misfit, unhygienic suit, that may cause skin disorders.” Another declared, “SNEEZING YET? Well, you will be shortly, if you are not now. Remedy? Our Men’s Fall Underwear.” The ad went on to extol the virtues of this heavier underwear, which cost 25¢ and 50¢ a garment. 

Like many other Charleston merchants, Volaski also advertised in the Orangeburg Times and Democrat: “If you cannot find what you want in your home town, remember you can always get it in Charleston.” The merchants offered a free round trip to Charleston by train if shoppers bought merchandise worth $25 or more. 

Mapping Jewish Charleston describes the store in the 1920s:

During the early 1920s, Charleston’s leading merchants
enthusiastically supported the city administration in its
development of a modern hotel on this site. Banov and Volaski
sold their corner property for construction of the Francis Marion
Hotel in 1920 and moved the business south across Calhoun Street
to the newly-renovated building at 381 King Street. 

In early 1920, Banov & Volaski hired a contractor to build a three-story brick building on the southwest corner of King and Calhoun for $10,000, and on September 29, 1920, opened its new store. Abel said that the new building at 381 King cost $90,000, an enormous sum at the time, and that moving across the street turned out to be a mistake. “For some reason that corner was not as good a corner.” Over time Volaski had competition from Berlin’s and Jack Krawcheck’s clothing stores. According to Abel, “his clientele went,” suggesting that customers followed the former Banov & Volaski salesmen when they opened their own stores. In September 1920, Banov & Volaski advertised for rent a two-room office in its new building and offered oak revolving clothing cabinets for sale. In early 1924, the store was advertising itself as “The Home of Good Values,” far different from its advertising when the business was in its heyday. 

The Francis Marion Hotel opened on February 7, 1924. Also in 1924, Volaski several times advertised as many as 15 rooms to rent in a “SPLENDID ROOMING house” on the upper floors of his store. They contained toilets, lavatories, and a kitchen with a large heater. 

After Joseph’s death, his wife, Agnes, and their daughter, Corinne, kept the store open a little longer, but the enterprise ultimately failed. At first Banov & Volaski, Inc. (its new name) advertised only in composite ads with other businesses, and then on December 26, 1927, started running ads offering merchandise at one-fourth off regular prices. In August 1928, the company advertised a forthcoming “gigantic bankrupt sale,” but mother and daughter must have fallen out since Agnes soon divorced herself from the plan: “MRS. J.A. VOLASKI,” she informed the public on August 8, “Has NO INTEREST or CONNECTION WHATSOEVER in the sale advertised as BANOV & VOLASKI ‘BANKRUPT SALE’”! The next day, nonetheless, the store began to advertise the bankruptcy sale, which continued through August 31, when its ad warned, “THE END IS NEAR!” 

On October 16, 1924, Wolf Banov passed away in Manhattan and was buried at a cemetery in Queens. 

By November 1928, the store was vacant, and a series of other businesses later occupied the premises. Banov & Volaski, however, left a lasting legacy: their store paved the way for other Jewish merchants to succeed in operating high-quality men’s clothing stores in Charleston. 

In December 1924, Joseph A. Volaski, still trading as “Banov & Volaski,” went bankrupt. The building and all the stock were sold. A few months later, Volaski rented the commercial space at 381 King Street from its new owners and reopened the Banov & Volaski store. In March 1925, however, Banov & Volaski’s stock was offered in the bankruptcy, and on September 14, 1927, after an illness of several months, Volaski died at the age of 63. He was buried in the Brith Sholom Magnolia Cemetery. In his obit the Evening Post called him a “prominent King St. merchant for many years,” noting that he had been a member of Friendship Lodge No. 9, A.F.M., and Dan Lodge No. 593, B’Nai Brith. 

1 Oral history recorded for the Jewish Heritage Collection, College of Charleston, April 6, 1996. Available online at: https://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:11816.

2 Charles Reznikoff and Uriah Z. Engelman, The Jews of Charleston (Philadelphia, Pa.: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1950), 180.

3 “Banov & Volaski,” Mapping Jewish Charleston, 1910, accessed February 26, 2021, https://mappingjewishcharleston.cofc.edu/1910/map.php?id=1003.

4 Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodoxy in Charleston: Brith Sholom Beth Israel & American Jewish History (Charleston, SC: College of Charleston Library, 2004), 14–15.

5 Milton M. Gottesman, Hoopskirts & Huppahs: A Chronicle of the Early Years of the Garfunkel-Trager Family in America, 1856–1920 (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1999), 44–46.

6 Gottesman, 78, n. 73,

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.

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