South of the Border hopes to see next boom
Posted December 29, 2009 4:39 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2009 6:53 p.m. EST
Dillon, S.C. — Its barrage of billboards and mustached mascot often grab the attention of motorists driving along Interstate 95 near the North Carolina/South Carolina border.
South of the Border, located in Dillon, is known for its giant sombrero, mini-golf course and endearing mascot, Pedro. The resort also offers a little taste of Mexican cuisine with restaurants.
Nicholas Bougoulias, of Montreal, Canada, stopped by South of the Border on Tuesday to buy fireworks. “I’m gong to Florida to shoot them,” he said.
Bougoulias described the resort as "very unusual." "It’s a place you don’t find very often,” he said.
But for Ryan Lombana, of Miami, Fla., the billboards build you up for a letdown.
“It’s kind of a ghost town compared to what you think you can get to,” Lombana said.
Alan Schafer opened South of the Border in 1949.
“People are in such a big hurry that they don’t enjoy their trips anymore,” Border’s spokeswoman Susanne Pelt said
By the late 1960s, when I-95 opened, the Border boomed.
“We have 300 hotel rooms. We used to have to turn business away because we were all filled up,” Pelt said.
By the 1990s, video poker was popular, but when South Carolina banned it, business at the Border went south.
Pelt, who has worked for the resort for 25 years, said increased competition also helped thin crowds. "You've had so many motels crop up all up and down the interstate,” she said.
A decade ago, South of the Border had more than 700 employees; now, it has fewer than 300.
Schafer died in July 2001. His grandson, Ryan Schafer, now owns the resort.
Management said they are trying to revive the resort to make it more attractive to the modern traveler by adding services like high-speed Internet for guests and new scanning systems for easier check-out.
“And it’s still a destination. We have family reunions,” Pelt said.