Fun Fact Friday this week – but Seth, it’s Monday. Nuts. Well, better late than never, right?! This past Thursday and Friday, I was in Charleston, SC for a continuing legal education course. My wife and I used to live in the Holy City and in addition to The Commonwealth, I also have my law license in South Carolina. As such, I have to complete a certain amount of credits each year to maintain that license in the Palmetto State. My wife and I just loved Charleston and it will always have a special place in our hearts, so it is always great to go back and visit. If you’ve ever made the drive from RVA to CHS, you know a majority of the trip is on I-95. And any trip that takes you on 95 South through North Carolina and South Carolina can only mean one thing – one bajillion billboards advertising for Pedro and South of the Border. I’ve made that drive so many times, I could do it in my sleep, but I always ask myself, how in the world did the concept of South of the Border come to be? Welp, now I have an answer.
South of the Border rests in Dillon County, South Carolina, just across the NC/SC border. Dillon County is home to the community of Little Rock, where Abraham Schafer settled his family in the 1870s and opened a general store. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Abraham’s son, Sam, decided to make an enterprise out of selling beer. He would ride to Baltimore and buy cases of beer, bring them back to Little Rock, and then sell them by the bottle for a profit. If you’ve ever been in North Carolina or South Carolina in the summertime, you can imagine the allure of an ice cold beer. As such, business boomed. So much so, that the family sold the general store and Sam started a beer distributorship with his own son, Alan. With his father’s health failing, Alan became the head of Schafer Distributing Company. Under his guidance, the company became one of the most prominent beer distributors in the southeast.
In the late ’40s, Robeson County, North Carolina went dry, banning the sale of alcohol. Robeson’s Palmetto State neighbor was Dillon County. So, in 1949, Alan Schafer bought a couple acres of land just south of the state border and opened a small, conspicuously-painted pink beer stand to sell suds to any thirsty Tarheel who came calling. It was dubbed The Beer Depot. Shortly thereafter, lawmakers in South Carolina passed legislation that said you could only sell beer in a restaurant. Always the entrepreneur, Schafer added 10-seats and a kitchen to The Beer Depot and renamed it South of the Border Drive-In. Schafer continued to expand his business ventures over the years and turned the modest South of the Border Drive-In into a sprawling 350-acre tourist stop stationed prominently on I-95. The products that sustained South of the Border have varied over the years – first beer, then fireworks (also illegal in NC), then video poker. Today, the pull of South of the Border is the attraction itself. It’s such a novelty, that people can’t help but stop. Next time you’re crossing into the Palmetto State via I-95, stop at the Border, have a cold one, and give a cheers to the attraction’s roots.