TikToker @thegamblercivic posted a viral TikTok showcasing the enigma that is South of the Border. The extensive Mexican-themed -realm- (we’re not really sure what else to call it) conveniently placed along I-95 boasts a large number of incredibly varying attractions. Take a glass elevator to the top of the 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower to catch a scenic view of the grounds. Run a few rounds of pinball at the arcade. 

Spend a day at the possibly abandoned Pedroland Park. (Don’t worry, they keep the music playing through the loudspeaker system even when nobody’s there). Gawk at an ungodly amount of snakes and crocodiles at the Reptile Lagoon, and then satisfy your appetite for what I’d imagine being Mexican cuisine in a giant sombrero. Lots of sombreros.

@thegamblercivic A quick internet search and you’ll see what I mean about the… theories. #SouthOfTheBorder #NorthCarolina #SouthCarolina #TouristTrap #Creepy #OldTown #Vintage #PitStop #FYP ♬ Sound FYP viral - JansenFivej

There are several more eateries and places to grab a drink on the premises I haven’t mentioned, as well as several large souvenir shops, one of which is dedicated entirely to fireworks. Shit, it even has a convention center.

To add to the strangeness, South of the Border is home to a 104-foot-tall bandito mascot named Pedro. Not only this but all employees there are referred to as “Pedro” regardless of race or gender.

According to their site, “America’s favorite highway oasis & gateway to the southeast” has been in business for nearly 70 years. The question now is: how?

First, let’s take a quick look at the history behind the attraction. South of the Border started as South of the Border Beer Depot – a simple little beer stand – all the way back in 1949. Alan Schafer, the man who founded it, strategically placed it just beyond the border of dry North Carolina counties, ensuring great financial success. When anyone from these counties wanted a beer, they’d come to SOTB. SOTB expanded in the following years, with motel rooms being added in 1954, followed by gift shops, lounges, a drug store, a barber shop, a post office, and a go-kart track, among other facilities, all by the mid-1960s.

Perhaps it was poppin’ 50, even 30 years ago, but this doesn’t explain SOTB’s longevity. Judging from TheGamblerCivic’s TikTok as well as other accounts of the place, it’s essentially a ghost town. If this truly is the case, then apart from the occasional passer-through buying a trinket or a t-shirt, what’s driving their revenue? How in the hell can this place afford to stay in business? It’s no wonder this bizarre Mexican wonderland is the object of so many conspiracy theories. And not to mention, the eerily vacant premises in juxtaposition to the bright, lively, slightly dated shops, signs, restaurants, and attractions just screams ‘backrooms.’ 

One theory is that this place is a front. It’s easy pickings, but it makes sense. Drugs, money laundering, whatever have you. One Redditor can attest to that on a thread from 2016 in which user u/catscatscats4lyfe asks the same questions we’re asking today.

It may seem likely, but consider the fact that there are no less than 50, and possibly over 100 billboards advertising SOTB from both directions as you drive along I-95. Not so discreet, huh. If it’s a front, it’s as though they want to get found out. Perhaps that’s the secret to their success, though – hide in plain sight.

TheGamblerCivic introduces us to these two possibilities with a bit more evidence: 

@thegamblercivic Replying to @dylanreilly13 for everyone asking, here’s the 2 BIGGEST theories surrounding South of the Border! #SouthOfTheBorder #YouNeverSausageAPlace #Conspiracy #ConspiracyTok #Theory #ConspiracyTheory #SouthCarolina #NorthCarolina #FYP #PetSmartMadeMeBuyIt #TouristTrap #Tourism ♬ Creepy and simple horror background music(1070744) - howlingindicator

Although a little less dramatic than you might have hoped, Redditors might have uncovered South of the Border’s mystery years ago.

Not only that, but apparently the owners use the grounds to house their Ginger Ale brewery. The sales from Blenheim Ginger Ale may be the source of income that keeps South of the Border afloat. Thanks to u/jspitzer221 for this info. 

Further, the TikTok comment section chimes in to shed some light on the matter. 

So really, it isn’t always a strange, soulless “highway oasis.” They have their on-season and off-season like many businesses.

But then, they're fun little factoids such as this that make us think wait– maybe something shady is going on south of the border: 

What could he be hiding from? Why include such things? Yeah, it could have to do with selling liquor to dry counties, originally, but in every building? Even in those more recently built? 

Government cabal linked to South of the Border confirmed? This one’s a stretch for sure. Still fun to think that there’s some sinister political tie between the U.S. government and a tacky, practically-abandoned tourist trap themed in what would be considered poor taste nowadays.

TikToker @guitalex2020 tells his story of South of the Border all but confirming it’s a place for people to illegally gamble, as well.

@guitalex2020 #stitch with @thegamblercivic ♬ original sound - Alexis Rivera

So in conclusion: drug front? Money laundering? Casino? All three? Guess it’s time to pay Pedro a visit and find out.