South of the Border Attraction in SC: Prohibition Made It Possible

South of the Border is a large tourist attraction located in Dillon County, South Carolina. It’s very close to the southern border of North Carolina. Hence, its name. But how did prohibition lead to its existence?

The Story of South of the Border

Here’s the story. Alan Schafer was a beer distributor in the city of Dillon in the late 1940’s. Much of his business was in Robeson County, just north of the state line.

In 1947, North Carolina passed a local option law. This enabled counties to decide whether or not to have their own prohibition. The following year, Robeson County imposed prohibition. Other counties in North Carolina did the same.

South of the Border

South of the Border observation tower

This greatly reduced Schafer’s business. He then made an important decision. If he couldn’t come to them, he decided he could entice consumers to come to him. To do this, he bought a few acres of land very close to the North Carolina border. It was right next to the highway connecting the two states. There, he built his ‘South of the Border Beer Depot’ in 1949. He largely sold beer by the case.

The Dillon County Sheriff and the state governor both advised him to sell food in addition to beer. This would reduce some of the opposition to his business. Schafer changed the name of the Depot. It became the ‘South of the Border Drive-In.’ He opened a small, ten-seat grill. In local newspapers he advertised his venture. It was ‘a new kind of drive-in restaurant.’ People could eat, drink and be merry. They could enjoy beer with their sandwich in the grill if they wished. But they could also buy beer by the case to take home. That remained his real business.

In 1949, the city of Dillon imposed a ban on the sale of beer between midnight and sunrise. This didn’t effect South of the Border because it wasn’t in the city. Schafer soon began selling beer 24 hours a day.

 South of the Border

A large South of the Border sign.

His great financial success enabled him to expand. He added a lounge. Then a gas station, souvenir shop, and 20-room motel. (It’s now 300 rooms.) Each room in the motel had a minibar.

In 1958, Schafer opened a liquor store. South Carolina alcohol laws are strict. He had to construct a stand-alone building. State law requires a liquor store to be separate from a store selling beer or wine.

This law is based on a myth. It’s that a shot of spirits is more alcoholic than a can of beer or glass of dinner wine. They actually have the same amount of alcohol. That’s .06 of an ounce of pure alcohol.

As time passed, Schafer added an arcade, amusement rides, restaurants, multiple gift shops, a swimming pool, miniature gold course, RV park, reptile zoo, and observation tower. He even added an adult book and video store.

At the time of Alan Schafer’s death in 2001, eight million travelers a year were stopping at South of the Border. It employed over 700 people and was valued at over 50 million dollars. It continues to evolve.

Ironically, this beer distributor owed a lot to local option prohibition. Without prohibition there would be no South of the Border.

Resources on South of the Border

Sombreros and Motorcycles and the South of the Border website are the best single sources

Greenberg, P. Don’t Go There! Emmaus, PA,: Rodale, 2008.

King, P.  Sombreros and Motorcycles in a Newer South. Jackson: U Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Reeves, J.  The Road to Somewhere.  NY: Norton, 2011.