Wall Drug Store, often referred to simply as "Wall Drug," is a tourist attraction located in the town of Wall, South Dakota. It is a shopping mall consisting of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants and various other stores. Unlike a traditional shopping mall, all the stores at Wall Drug operate under a single entity instead of being individually run stores. The New York Times has described Wall Drug as "a sprawling tourist attraction of international renown that takes in more than $10 million a year and draws some two million annual visitors to a very remote town."
In December 1931. Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchased the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. At first business was less than they expected.
Wall South Dakota was a little prairie town with only 326 people, make that 326 poor people. Most of them were farmers who'd been wiped out either by the Depression or drought.
To say business was bad would be an understatement. On a hot July day Dorothy was trying to nap but the nearby traffic kept her awake. From that noise a marketing campaign was born and the first road sign followed. "Get a soda . . . Get a root beer . . . turn next corner . . . Just as near . . . To Highway 16 & 14. . . Free Ice Water. . . Wall Drug."
The signs were modeled after the old Burma Shave highway signs. Each phrase of Dorothy's little poem went on a 12 by 36 inch board. They spaced the boards out so the people could read them as they drove. They had no ice machine. They hand chipped blocks of ice. People began stopping by the hundreds. In addition to free ice water they bought ice cream cones and more.
The next summer Wall Drug had to hire eight girls to help them, and now that the store is in the the good hands of the original owners son Bill. Wall Drug now draws up to twenty thousand people on a good summer day.
Wall Drug earns much of its fame from its self-promotion. Billboards advertising the establishment can be seen for hundreds of miles throughout South Dakota and the neighboring states. In addition, many visitors of Wall Drug have erected signs throughout the world announcing the miles to Wall Drug from famous locations, treating it as a geodesic datum. By 1981 Wall Drug was claiming it was giving away 20,000 cups of ice water per day during the peak tourist season, lasting from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and during the hottest days of the summer.
Wall Drug has over 500 miles (800 km) of billboards on Interstate 90, stretching from Minnesota to Billings, Montana. Wall Drug spends an estimated $400,000 on billboards every year.
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