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South of the Border
South of the Border (attraction) 1.jpg
South of the Border's large welcome sign
Location Dillon, South Carolina, US
Opened 1950

South of the Border is an attraction on Interstate 95 (I-95), US Highway 301 (US 301) and US 501 in Dillon, South Carolina, just south of Rowland, North Carolina. It is so named because it is just south of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, and was the half way point to Florida from New York in the early days of motor travel. The area is themed in faux-Mexican style. The rest area contains restaurants, gas stations, a video arcade, and a motel, and truck stop as well as a small amusement park, a mini golf course, shopping and fireworks stores. Its mascot is Pedro, a caricature of a Mexican bandido. South of the Border is known for its roadside billboard advertisements, which begin many miles away from and incorporate a mileage countdown to the attraction itself. The stop has since fallen on hard times as more modern hotel areas have grown along I-95.


The entire motif of South of the Border can be described as intentionally campy. South of the Border is located at the intersection of I-95 and US 301/US 501 just south of the border between South Carolina and North Carolina. The site is a 350-acre (140 ha) compound that contains a miniature golf course, truck stop, 300-room motel, multiple souvenir shops, a campground, multiple restaurants, amusement rides, and a 200-foot (61 m) observation tower with a sombrero shaped observation deck. It is also home to "Reptile Lagoon", the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the US.

Architectural features include "a Jetsons-esque starburst chandelier" in the lobby and Mimetic. Pedro's Pleasure Dome is a swimming pool inside "a junkyard version" of a geodesic dome. A Washington Post review says, "[F]lashing signs ... throw technicolor pink and green and blue onto every surface. No destination or sentiment is too small to be blared out in bright orange." Numerous large statues of animals such as dolphins, horses, dogs, gorillas and dinosaurs can be found. The Peddler Steakhouse, the nicest of the restaurants, is shaped like a sombrero, while the Mexican-themed Sombrero restaurant is not, though its décor includes sombreros, cactus and terra cotta, with lots of lime green. There are areas that bring to mind the photography of William Eggleston, the cinematography of David Lynch, and the gas station art of Ed Ruscha.


South of the Border was developed by Alan Schafer in 1950. He had founded South of the Border Depot, a beer stand, at the location in 1949 adjacent to Robeson County which was, at one time, one of many dry North Carolina counties. Business was steadily expanded with Mexican trinkets and numerous kitsch items imported from Mexico. The site itself also began to expand to include a cocktail lounge, gas station and souvenir shop and, in 1954, a motel. In 1962, South of the Border expanded into fireworks sales, potentially capitalizing on the fact fireworks were illegal in North Carolina. In 1964 it was announced that the route for I-95 would pass right by South of the Border, and the facility would be next to two exits and within view of the highway. By the mid-1960s, South of the Border had expanded to include a barber shop, drug store, a variety store, a post office an outdoor go-kart track complete with other outdoor recreational facilities and the 104 feet (32 m) tall image of the mascot, Pedro.

Over the years, the billboards with messages some considered racist and offensive changed to become tamer while still retaining the same tongue-in-cheek tone. Schafer continued to deny his attraction was racist, citing the fact that he was known for hiring African Americans, and even helping them to vote, and standing up to the Ku Klux Klan.

About 300 people, mostly local employees, work at South of the Border. At one time, with 700 working there, it was the largest employer in Dillon County, South Carolina.


Initially, Schafer only employed sombreros and serapes to advertise South of the Border. Schafer went to Mexico because of his import business and came back with two men he hired as bellboys, who people began calling Pedro and Pancho. From there, the Pedro mascot developed. Schafer eventually created Pedro, to add to the exotic element and theme of the attraction. Pedro is an exaggerated, cartoon-like representation of a Mexican bandit. Pedro wears a sombrero, a poncho and a large mustache. Minstrel shows were still popular in Dillon County in the 1940s and 1950s, at about the time Pedro was created and P. Nicole King argues Pedro embodies the way in which people exoticized Mexico or Mexicans at the time while also remaining intentionally campy. Pedro has likewise been referred to as culturally offensive, politically incorrect or racist. P. Nicole King described Pedro's image as a "southern Jewish guy in brown face" that was perhaps made, partially, in Schafer's image. Schafer himself had previously dismissed criticism that Pedro is an unfair characterization of Mexicans arguing it's a light-hearted joke. Today, all South of the Border employees, regardless of race, creed or color, are referred to as Pedro.

Pop culture

American storyteller, radio and TV personality, Jean Shepherd began his TV movie, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, with a trip to South of the Border. He stops at a fireworks market called Fort Pedro, which leads him into the story of the most memorable Fourth of July during his childhood in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana.

The opening scene of Season 3, Episode 5 of Eastbound & Down shows characters Eduardo Sanchez Powers and Casper robbing a Mexican store leading the viewers to believe they were still in Mexico. The scene later reveals they were actually robbing the gift shop at South of the Border and are now traveling in the United States.

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