The D.E.A.L. Dining, Entertainment, Attractions & Lodging: 650 Miles of Billboards Lure Drivers To Stop for a Townful of Shopping
Similar to Pedro’s successful billboard campaigns on I-95 from New York to Florida, Wall Drug earns much of its fame from its self-promotion. Most of Wall Drug’s advertisement billboards can be found on an approximately 650-milelong stretch of I-90 from Minnesota to Montana. In addition, many visitors of Wall Drug have erected signs throughout the world announcing the number of miles to Wall Drug from famous locations.
In 1931, Nebraska native and pharmacist Ted Hustead was looking for a small town to start his business. He bought Wall Drug,
located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as “the middle of nowhere,” and business was slow until his wife, Dorothy,
thought of advertising free ice water to travelers heading to Mt. Rushmore just 60 miles away. Free water led to brisk business and Wall Drug grew into a cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store. Today. the 76,000-sq.ft. Wall Drug includes a western art museum, a chapel based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa, a six-foot tall jackalope, donut factory, and Western art gallery, and an 80-foot apatosaurus (formerly brontosaurus) that was designed by Emmet Sullivan, who also created the
dinosaurs at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City and Dinosaur World in Arkansas.
Describes one traveler, “Wall Drug is basically like a mini indoor mall with a bunch of little stores selling everything from leather goods, souvenirs, candy and fudge, to clothing, toiletries, rocks, gemstones, and tchotchkes galore. There is also a fenced-in ‘backyard’ with different structures to climb on (a photo on the giant jackalope is a must!)” There’s an indoor arcade with an old west shooting gallery as well as photo opportunities at every turn. Bring your pennies and quarters, as there are a few penny pressing machines.
By 1981 Wall Drug was claiming it was giving away 20,000 cups of water per day during the peak tourist season. Wall Drug still offers free ice water, and has added free bumper stickers and signs as well as coffee for five cents. Some popular free bumper stickers read
“Where the heck is Wall Drug?” “How many miles to Wall Drug?” and “Where in the world is Wall Drug?”.
When Hustead died in 1999, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow began his annual State of the State address by commemorating Hustead as “a guy that figured out that free ice water could turn you into a phenomenal success in the middle of a semi-arid desert
way out in the middle of someplace.”
Wall Drug Store is located at 510 Main St., Wall, SD 57790, Telephone: (605) 279-2175. For more info, visit www.walldrug.com.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Exhibit City News magazine, p. 81. For more pictures and original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/jan-feb_ecn2018.