USA Today article
By Shirley O’Bryan Smith, Associated Press
DILLON, S.C. — What’s kitschy, glitzy and promoted by 175 giant billboards for hundreds of miles along Interstate 95?
The answer is South of the Border, in Dillon, S.C., a 350-acre roadside attraction with shops, restaurants, and some really odd concrete statues, including a collection of iconic Pedros, a cartoon mascot with a Mexican theme.
It’s highway Americana at its best, and if you’re driving I-95, you can’t miss it. But just to make sure, the billboards appear from the Virginia-North Carolina border to the South Carolina-Georgia border.
That’s fewer than in the past, when 250 signs ran from Philadelphia to Daytona, Fla.
Times have also changed the nature of the signs. They’ve become more politically correct by eliminating most of the exaggerated Spanish and broken English puns.
South of the Border has a history as colorful as its lights at night. It actually started as a beer stand. Alan Schafer and his father were in the beer and wine business in North Carolina, but when the area went dry, they moved across the border to South Carolina to set up shop in 1949.
Legend has it that when Schafer ordered building materials a few years later, they were delivered to “Schafer Project South of the (North Carolina) Border.” He thought that was kind of catchy and named his new enterprise South of the Border. From there it was a no-brainer to add Pedro and the Mexican theme.
These days South of the Border is a $40 million enterprise with nearly 20 shops, eateries, a motel, two gas stations, campsite, fireworks, a convention center, amusement park, a gigantic revolving Mexican sombrero, and the statues. In addition to the Pedro collection, there is a big gorilla, a huge golf ball, some sea captains, a few flamingos and a blue rhinoceros. The motel is even said to have a haunted room.
As intriguing as all that is, South of the Border is not generally thought of as a destination by itself. Millions of people have stopped there for food, gas, bathroom breaks or just to air the kids out. And millions of others have passed right by, wide-eyed and shaking their heads in wonder.
But to go there on purpose?
Susanne Pelt, who is public relations director and personnel director, says it happens more often than you might think: “People from up North and people from farther South sometimes meet here in the middle for their family reunions.”
Some people even have their weddings there. As a notary public — or “Pedro of the peace,” if you will — Pelt figures she’s tied the knot for about 500 couples.
She says one couple wanted to get married inside the towering sombrero with a Doberman Pinscher as an attendant.
“The bride said it was her baby,” explained Pelt, “and it wore a pink bow on its neck.”