You Never Sausage a Place!

For the third and final installment of our Signs of Summer series (you can read the first and second on our blog), we’re featuring a piece of roadside Americana that’s legendary here in the deep South.

If you’ve never made the drive down I-95, crossing from North Carolina into South Carolina, you may not be familiar with the strange billboards lining the highway. Some of them encourage bad behavior from the passengers in the backseat – “KEEP YELLING, KIDS – THEY’LL STOP!” Some rely on silly puns – like the enormous roadside salami with the phrase – “YOU NEVER SAUSAGE A PLACE!” And still more reference Pedro, a little cartoon who appears to be a denizen of this mysterious location.

Highway Sign

If you’re from the Southeast, you already know what these signs are about. They’re advertisements for a little slice of strangeness with its giant sombrero glowing on the side of the highway.  We call it South of the Border.

South of the Border is part truck stop and part theme park. The name comes from the attraction’s location – it’s located in Dillon, South Carolina, immediately south of the border between the Carolinas. Developer Alan Schafer, a beer distributor by trade, initially built the attraction as a beer and liquor store right over the Carolina border that allowed North Carolinians to take advantage of South Carolina’s more permissive alcohol laws.

But with a name like South of the Border, Schafer couldn’t resist the urge to develop a marketing plan that centered around a campy Mexican theme. Over time, South of the Border became home to a sombrero-shaped steakhouse, a swimming pool, an observatory, and Mexico West, a gift shop with South of the Border merchandise and Mexican gifts.

Highway Sign

Mr. Schafer designed the billboards himself. At one time there were more than 250 different billboards dotting I-95 and other highways from Philadelphia, PA to Daytona Beach, FL. Today, the billboards are more contained, spanning north and south from the Virginia/North Carolina state lines to the South Carolina/Georgia state lines.

One can’t talk about South of the Border’s roadside signs without acknowledging some of the location’s controversy. Some boycott the establishment because the attraction’s mascot, Pedro, is a caricature that relies on uncomfortable racial stereotypes. Yet Schafer, whose establishment was, at one time, the largest employer in Dillon County, SC, was well known for hiring minorities and supporting their civil rights.

Over the years and prior to his death in 2001, Schafer took pains to diminish some of Pedro’s broken English and create billboards with less offensive taglines. Today, all South of the Border employees, regardless of their background, are referred to as Pedro – meaning we’ll never know who is really responsible for those goofy puns on the iconic highway signs.

Much like the Mystery Spot of Santa Cruz or Kansas’s World’s Largest Ball of Twine, South of the Border and its billboard advertising campaign have entered American roadside history, its sombrero-shaped observatory a beacon over the horizon for adventurous road trippers from all over.

Fuel for Thought,