Ken returns from Disney World with possibly sad news: Many of the shops at the world famous South of the Border near Dillon, SC looked to be closed. Indeed, reports at various websites since the death of the founding SoB Alan Schafer in 2001 claim that the faux Mexican Mecca has gone to seed.
Frankly SoB was always teetering between magic and mistake. Schafer was constantly trying new shops and killing his losers. A sudden drop in the market price of mariachi dressed dried alligators could cause the entire redesign of a salesfloor to accommodate the wonderful bargins. A guy I once knew worked at one shop as a manager. He was saddled with barrels of odd sized leather purses that wouldn’t move no matter how much he dropped the price. Schafer stepped in personally and tripled the posted price, added a special sale sign in his imagined Mexican-English and put them by the door. Not only did the sales more than double, but so did the shoplifting. My informant insisted that Schafer wrote off the loses to his light fingered visitors at the new high price which gave him an additional large tax savings!
Of course, I don’t know how much of all of that is true, but the shear audacity of Schafer was for me the magic of the place. Not the tacky “heir conditioned” honeymoon suite which catered to folks eloping and to various military guests. Not the large collection of thin beach towels and corny t-shirts. Not the famously slow service in the restaurants or even the uneven, and occassionally very good, cooking. Not even the fabled Sombrero tower — itself a mix of Mexico and Paris in Eastern South Carolina. No, it was the totality of the place. Unfinished and constantly madly reimagined. And would you expect a place which features a Dirty Old Man Shop to attract anyone who isn’t at least seedy in part of their imagined life?