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South of the Border

Location: Dillon, South Carolina

Hey Pedro, it’s South Carolina, not Mexico. The border in question is with Robeson County, N.C., less than a mile up Interstate 95, where alcohol was banned when Al Schafer opened his beer stand in 1949. It attracted not only Schafer’s thirsty neighbors, but high-end “Cadillac customers” bound for Florida. When a souvenir salesman traded his samples for beer one day, “they sold as fast as my granddad put them out,” says Ryan Schafer, who owns the complex today with his father.

The Cadillac customers fly now, but thousands of motorists are lured by 175 billboards that begin in Virginia, to what has become a small town, with a motel, gift shop and restaurant. The first sign that they’ve made it? A vision of Pedro, a 100-foot statue of the mascot.

South of the Border is famous for something else, as well: It's where Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke worked as a waiter on one summer break from college.

What keeps customers coming is change. South of the Border recently added an indoor reptile zoo, the largest in the country, according to Schafer. But modifications need not be elaborate, says Schafer. "If nothing else, repaint."

Photo: www.thesouthoftheborder.com