On the Road: South of the Border

Summer has always been synonymous with fireworks, backyard cookouts and the occasional road trip. For those of us who are from the East Coast or have traveled through the South by way of I-95, we may be all too familiar with the notorious tourist “destination” known as South of the Border.

Back in 1949 when many of the counties in North Carolina were effectively dry, out of sheer genius or perhaps the first to recognize an opportunity, Mr. Alan Schafer purchased a 3-acre parcel of land for $500 just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Mr. Schafer set up an 18 x 36 ft. beer stand known as the South of the Border Beer Depot. Unsurprisingly, business has boomed since day one.

Today, South of the Border stretches over 135-acres and is a unique combination of roadside attraction, snack stand, arcade, motel, kitsch shopping destination and carnival.

The considerable hype surrounding South of the Border tends to be more iconic than the actual destination. Seriously, the only thing that has received half as much hype in history was the release of the Segway. Beginning about 200 miles away from the border, billboard after billboard – approximately 175 total – immodestly boasts what is built up to be the most spectacular destination on Earth – “You’ve Never Sausage A Place!”

Does it live up to the hype? Every now and then, it’s good to have a little cheese in life and this is where South of the Border excels. My personal favorite is one of the fourteen (yes, fourteen) gift shops advertised as “Goods from Around the World,” but everything was made in China.

The last time I visited South of the Border, it felt more like a ghost town than the festival atmosphere that it promises. The carnival rides weren’t operating, the décor of the buildings were obviously dated and there were only a handful of visitors. In its heyday, South of the Border had more than 700 employees; now, it has fewer than 300. Despite falling on slightly harder times, many of us have fond memories of South of the Border in its prime.

With such an impressive billboard campaign, the inevitable visit to South of the Border is more of a stop to satisfy curiosity rather than being an actual destination. Although I have no immediate plans for a visit to South of the Border for at least the next decade, I feel like it wouldn’t be summer or a trip down South without those billboards, all 175 of them.

One comment

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke worked at South of the Border during his teenage years. He also worked there during the summer to support himself through college. Fun fact…

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