Greek immigrants began arriving in South Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century, seeking to escape the economic stagnation of their own country. Their arrival in South Carolina coincided with a burst of development in the state’s economy. They quickly found a niche in urban areas as entrepreneurs within the service sector.
Disdaining farm or mill labor, Greeks started out as pushcart merchants. Within a few years of their arrival, they were able to invest in storefront businesses such as confectioneries and restaurants. The Greek-owned restaurant was a common feature on the main street of many Carolina cities and towns. These sandwich shops and lunch counters, usually conspicuous by their quaint names such as the Busy Bee or the Hob Nob Grill, offered new venues where busy New South workers could grab a quick lunch.
Greek entrepreneurs were able to locate their businesses in prime locations in the white business district alongside native white-, Jewish-, and Syrian-owned businesses; they were not segregated into a separate district, as were the state’s African American entrepreneurs and professionals.
The success of their businesses was sufficient inducement for Greeks to remain in the state. Their preference for entrepreneurship, the arrival of Greek women, and the consequent growth of families cemented these communities into permanent settlements. Greeks did not reside in ethnic enclaves, and by the 1930s they were well established in middle-class suburban neighborhoods. Their children attended white public schools and the majority graduated from college. Most of the first and second generations followed in the pattern of entrepreneurship or advanced into the professional class.
The formation of permanent settlements resulted in the establishment of Greek Orthodox churches in the state’s major cities and towns. The church became the center of Greek cultural and religious life for the immigrants as well as for successive generations.
Adallis, D. History of Columbia, S. C. Greek-American Colony, 1884–1934. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, .
Boyd, Rosamonde. The Social Adjustment of the Greeks in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Williams Printing, [1949?].
Katsos, John. The Life of John Katsos . . . The Greek Immigrant. Greenville, S.C.: A Press, 1985.
Stathakis, Paula Maria. “Almost White: Greek and Lebanese-Syrian Immigrants in North and South Carolina, 1900–1940.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1996.