Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 21, 2001
Anyone traveling along Interstate 95 has seen them: the groan-inducing, retina-scorching green and orange billboards.
Too Tired to Tango? (Rest Weeth Pedro!)
Pedro sez: Chili today, hot tamale.
Keep America Green! Bring Money!
You Never Sausage a Place! You’re Always a Wiener at Pedro’s!
Keep yelling kids! (They’ll stop.)
For more than five decades, South of the Border has attracted restless travelers, reportedly as many as 8-million a year. The $40-million Mexican-themed complex includes motel rooms, campsites, gift shops, restaurants, an amusement park and a large observation tower shaped like a sombrero. The park, with about 750 workers, remains one of the largest employers in an economically depressed county.
Its mascot is the wise-cracking Pedro character made famous by the billboards and created by Alan Schafer.
Born into a Jewish family in Baltimore just as World War I was starting, Mr. Schafer lived almost all of his life in South Carolina’s rural Dillon County. He was a journalism major at the University of South Carolina, who left during his senior year in 1933 to take over a cafe and a beer distributing company for his ailing father.
After World War II, Mr. Schafer noticed hordes of families from the Northeast zooming down U.S. 301 to South Carolina and Florida beaches. He decided to offer them a place to stop for a meal and souvenirs. He started in 1949, with an 18- by 36-foot, shocking-pink beer stand just south of the state border. The nearby North Carolina counties were dry, meaning it was illegal to sell alcohol there. The next year, he added a 10-seat grill — the South of the Border Drive-In — at the request of then-Gov. Strom Thurmond, who wanted to quiet complaints from anti-drink forces in the neighboring state.
Next came the curios. One night in the early 1950s, a traveling salesman wandered in. He had run out of cash on the way home to New York City from a Miami trade show. Mr. Schafer bought the man’s stock, a collection of plush elephants and bears, for $100. He distributed the stuffed toys around his store. A week later, he had sold them all for $500.