Like many other roadside attractions in the State of South Dakota, Wall Drug Store has signs along the highways beckoning travelers to visit.
But Wall Drug Store is perhaps the most prolific sign-posting highway haunt of them all. Along the I-90, there’s about one Wall Drug sign every mile from both directions, east to west and west to east. Considering the I-90 spans 412 miles across the Mt. Rushmore State, that’s about how many signs there are too.
If you’ve never been to Wall Drug, it’s actually a souvenir shop and tourist trap than anything else.
The facility covers about a quarter city block, and even includes a small shopping mall where it rents out space to other merchants. Wall Drug has a restaurant with an old fashioned soda fountain and ice cream bar. There’s a kiddie-land out back with an animated T-Rex Dinosaur, a “train station water show”, and it even has its own chapel. And tucked away inside all the memorabilia madness, there’s still the actual Wall Drug store where they fill your prescriptions.
And everyone seems to stop at Wall Drug, from the RVs to the SUVs and hundreds of motorcycle riders as well.
But if it weren’t for the signs along the highway, there wouldn’t be a Wall Drug Store.
In 1931, during the depression years, Ted Hustead bought the struggling drug store in Wall, SD, a town of about 231 residents of that time. And even under his command, Wall Drug continued to suffer. In the following years, Hustead was about ready to give up on his drug store.
About 75 miles to the west, Mt. Rushmore had begun construction in 1929, and by 1934 the carving of the faces had begun. By this time, tourists began flocking to South Dakota to see the work underway. Several of them had taken old Route 16A which ran through the town of Wall.
During the sweltering heat of Summer, which in those days cars didn’t air conditioning, travelers suffered. So, Hustead had erected signs along the highway offering travelers free ice cold water at his drug store.
And it worked. People stopped at Wall Drug to get the liquid cold refreshment, and at the same time, spend a little extra on goodies.
To this day, Wall Drug still gives away free glasses of ice cold water, but has expanded to free bumper stickers with the words, “Where the Heck is Wall Drug?”. Otherwise, the landmark drug store still relies on these billboards for much of its business, spending about $400,000.00 a year paying land owners for the space.
So why is Wall Drug Store featured on Road Pickle? It’s actually quite overblown in its quest for the almighty dollar. But inside you’ll still find friendly employees. Somehow, the small town charm of Wall still lives on. You’ll still find that tiny little drug store inside that still strives to know its customers by first name, and you’ll even find a tiny little chapel inside too. There’s even an homage to the American Indians, an indication that the tourist trap of today still remembers the history the land.
Wall Drug Store
510 Main Street
Wall, SD 57790-0401