“ Address: 510 Main St., Wall, SD „
Wall Drug Store
Wall is a small town in South Dakota not far from the Badlands National Park. We were going there anyway to visit the Wounded Knee Massacre Museum but even if we hadn't the advertisements in the magazines combined with the billboards all along the I-90 highway would have brought us in to see what all the hype was about Wall Drug Store!
All along the highway the billboards shouted at us:
"America's Favorite Roadside Attraction!"
"Free Admission to this 76,000 square foot wonderland of free attractions!!
"FREE ICE WATER"
That is a very strange name for a town where does it come from? In the Badlands you have a lower prairie area which lies along the floodplain of the White River and an upper prairie area which is flatter with more gentle hills. The Wall stands between these two distinct prairies and is a rugged strip varying from half to three miles wide and is a series of gullies, ridges and spires dividing the two and serving as a barrier. The town Wall gets its name from The Badlands Wall.
Wall is just 8 Miles from Badlands National Park, 55 Miles from Rapid City , 70 Miles from Black Hills , Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave National Park so in a great position to catch tourists going to and from these destinations.
WHY IS THIS SHOP A TOURIST ATRACTION?
In 1931 Dorothy and Ted Hustead and their son Billy moved into the Wall Drug Store. This was a time of Depression and Wall was in the middle of nowhere. This is what he found when he first arrived:
"I stood shivering on the wooden sidewalk. In this little prairie town there were only 326 people, 326 poor people. Most of them were farmers who'd been wiped out either by the Depression or drought."
Hustead decided he was going to find a way to bring passing traffic into the town and so into his shop, his wife had the idea of offering "FREE ICED WATER" to passing travelers. From this time they built on their reputation of giving friendly service to the public! They hit upon a great formula and the shop is a huge success as this is now a tourist attraction in its own right. Today Wall Drug Store gives away 5,000 glasses of ice water every day during the summer. They will even fill a jug for you.
We were tempted by the 5c cup of coffee which was real filter coffee that you helped yourself to and popped your nickel into an honesty pot. The café was huge and there was a counter where you could buy food or other drinks but it was only coffee time for us. We had a couple of cups of coffee each and enjoyed sitting and watching other people in the café. This was cowboy country and some of the other coffee drinkers were wearing the most enormous cowboy hats, cowboy boots and the whole kit and caboodle. It was like stepping into a Western movie set at times.
FREE WATER AND 5c COFFEE - THERE MUST BE MORE TO IT THAN THAT!
This was a huge place with the most bizarre attractions. It was a cross between an old fashioned shop, a county show, a Ripley's Believe It or Not display and a children's playground. It honestly has to be seen to be believed.
Here were two life sized 'singing' orchestras. One was the Cowboy and the other the Chuck Wagon Quartet. Every quarter of an hour one or other, depending on where you were would start off on their repertoire of 'singing' and 'dancing'. As you might imagine this was not exactly musical and really one for the children and a novelty but it was fun and amused us for a few minutes because of its sheer naffness.
THE BACK YARD
This was the strangest place. A huge 'life sized' Tyrannosaurus comes into action by turning its head and roaring about every five minutes, it can give you quite a shock if you are not expecting it. Other attractions include a life sized bucking bronco, a giant jackalope, a six foot stuffed rabbit, A Mount Rushmore model, a studded bison, a covered wagon that you can go into and several of those weird 'Ripley's Believe it or not' machines that you put money in to see oddities. At the opposite end to the T-Rex is the Mining experience where you can for a small fee pan for gold or dig in a box to get 'precious' gem stones which is a bit of fun for children but we were not tempted. We did stop and listen to the animated quartet in front of this for a few minutes and it made us smile so can't be all bad.
This is where the play area is and a nice picnic place too. I think they are offering a fabulous journey break as children can play, investigate the many oddities around and have a really lovely time while the parents have a sit and enjoy the iced water or coffee and have a break. They have hit upon a grand idea and made this small drug store into a tourist attraction in its own right in a town that you probably would otherwise pass by without noticing. All credit to them.
THE WALL DRUG MALL
They have recreated a typical Western town by having all the shops built from native timbers in the style of the early towns in the area. It is quaint and makes it a bit more interesting to browse the shops while walking down the 'street' made from Cheyenne river rock. The shops were many and varied from tourist tat through to pharmacy stuff and so many different sweets, leather goods like boots and saddles, books, clothes and so much more. It was quite easy to get lost in the building as it was full of nooks and crannies and twists and turns.
THE WESTERN ART GALLERY AND DINNG AREA
The store displays and sells local paintings and at any one time there are over 300 original painting on display. Many of these are in the dining area or cafe where we enjoyed our 5c coffee. The cafe is all wood panelled and the wood is American Black Walnut and this combined with the cowboy locals makes for a very authentic experience. We particularly were impressed by the carving of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid which was carved from a 187 year old cedar tree.
COLLECT YOUR BUMPER STICKER
All visitors can help themselves to a free Wall Drug Store sign or Bumper sticker from any checkout. This is very clever as you would have to be very cheeky to just take a sticker so of course you buy something first then take your sticker so they make a sake most times from people taking the stickers. It is also great advertising as some people do stick them on their bumpers and drive around so lots of driers and passes by will see the sticker and be reminded of the Drug store and add it to their list of places to call in and see.
IS IT WORTH A VISIT?
I think so for pure novelty value. It is also a perfect journey break for a cup of coffee and you can't beat 5c for price either. We were going to Wall anyway for the Wounded Knee museum and I'd seen this advertised in all the local tourist magazines so we decided this would be a perfect coffee stop.
Rather than just having a coffee and sit down we spent about an hour wandering around finding all the little weird things to see and have a laugh at the T-Rex making us jump, the 'singing' orchestras and posing with the bison as well as other things. It also had lovely clean bathrooms for the toilet break too so it entertained us while we had our coffee and toilet break.
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Wall Drug is the principal industry in the town of Wall. It's a sprawling tourist mall that occupies most of downtown and employs nearly a third of its population. Over a million people stop at Wall Drug every year .