Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Some of you road warriors recently traveling along I-95 near Dillon, SC’s South of the Border may have noticed construction equipment razing a few buildings at iconic roadside attraction and thought you were witnessing the demise of yet another American roadside icon this year.

Not to worry, folks. Staff say that South of the Border is just going under some renovations as part of their plans to remodel, though they wouldn’t say when these new renovations will be completed.

A Run for the Border Started it All

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

This is not the first time that South of the Border (also affectionately called “SOB”) has been renovated and updated since Alan Shafer first opened it as a tiny beer stand in 1949. He called it “South of the Border” because it was located just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina line. At the time, two adjacent North Carolina counties were “dry” counties — they didn’t allow the sale of alcohol of any kind. As a result, thirsty Tarheels would sneak south of the North Carolina border and buy beer from Mr. Shafer’s shack. His business skyrocketed.

The beer shack became so successful, in fact, that a couple of years later Shafer added a 10-seat grill called “The South of the Border Drive-In.” A 20-room motel was added in 1954. The years following would see the addition of a cocktail lounge, a gas station, a fireworks building and — now adopting a Mexican theme, based on the whole “South of the Border” wordplay — he started selling Mexican trinkets and other kitschy souvenirs he bought from Mexico.

Signs of Those Times

It was around this time that South of the Border billboards started popping up, with kitschy sayings like:

                “Pedro sez: Chili today, hot tamale.”

                “Keep yelling kids! They’ll stop!”

                “You Never Sausage a Place! You’re Always a Wiener at Pedro’s!”

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

At their peak there were 250 signs that lined I-95 from Philadelphia to Daytona Beach, all designed by Shafer himself. Most of them are still out there today — around 175 of them, in fact — and you can find them along I-95, Highway 301/501, as well as a few along nearby I-20.

Walls Kept Being Built at the Border

Business boomed even more for Shafer in 1965 when I-95 was constructed and included two exits located nearly right outside of SOB’s front door. Afterwards, Shafer added a barber shop, a drug store, a go-kart track, and a post office. Indeed, South of the Border was turning into a regular small town of its own. 

The 1970s saw the addition of the 104-foot-tall sign of “Pedro” — SOB’s mascot — and the 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower. Until his death on June 15, 2006, Shafer kept adding to his South of the Border project, including the sombrero shaped Peddler Steakhouse and The Pleasure Dome featuring an indoor heated pool, sauna, and locker rooms with showers for motel guests.

The Legacy Continues

Reptile Lagoon at South of the Border
Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Today, the business is run by Shafer’s son and grandson, Richard and Ryan. You can still shop for fireworks at Fort Pedro, stop for a quick bite at Pedro’s Hot Tamale, or take the kiddies over to Pedroland Park for some old-fashioned carnival fun.

Though most of the shops at SOB are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays they stay open until 10 p.m. However, restaurant and attraction hours vary so it’s best to check out their website before you visit.

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