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Only 13 209km To Go – Wall Drug, SD

Where to begin with Wall Drug? It’s a destination that defies description but I’ll try. Wall Drug is a drugstore in the town of Wall on the edge of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. When I say drugstore, you probably imagine a quaint dispensary in a small town. In your mind’s eye, it may have a soda fountain and perhaps some souvenirs. All of these things are correct but Wall Drug is so much more.

Sth Dakota, Wall Drug Since 1931

Stop At Wall Drug
You’ll learn of Wall Drug well before you get to it. Why? Because one of the things that defines Wall Drug is its use of billboards announcing it as a must see destination. It’s never too soon or too obscure for Wall Drug to advertise. We were hundreds of miles away, two states over in Colorado when a sign appeared in the apparent middle of nowhere reminding us to ‘Stop at Wall Drug’. There are signs dotted all over the country and even farther afield in locations such as Antarctica. Many provide a distance countdown with only 200, 100, 50 or 10 miles to go. It’s estimated that they spend nearly half a million dollars on billboards annually.

Wall Drug signs pair 1 Wall Drug signs pair 2

You’ll see Wall Drug signs regularly on the drive towards it and as you get closer the frequency and variety of signs increases exponentially. The claims of what’s on offer are wondrous and I can imagine the kids in the back of the car, at fever pitch, desperately nagging their parents to stop at this magical destination.

Wall Drug signs pair 6 Wall Drug signs pair 4 Wall Drug signs pair 3

The Masters of Marketing
Wall Drug knows a thing or two about marketing. Not only are their sign painters in constant work but their whole business has been built upon one solitary offer – free ice water. Wall Drug made its name and fortune in the 1930’s by offering free ice water to travellers. In the hot and dusty Depression years, this was quite a phenomenon.

How it all started...

How it all started…

Sth Dakota, Wall Drug Great Hot Coffee 1

They worked out that by offering something for free, people would go out of their way to visit. Free ice water turned into water and 5c coffee. Then the pies, the candy store, the dining room, the souvenirs and before you know it, you’ve co-opted the Jackalope as a mascot with an extensive line of its own merchandise, you have a dinosaur in your backyard and you’ve taken over an entire city block. These days, Wall Drug is a destination in its own right. A pastiche of old fashioned Wild West emporium and theme park, it still has a compounding chemist where you can seek advice from the pharmacist, get your prescription filled under the watchful gaze of a black bear and buy a pair of armadillo cowboys boots whilst you’re waiting.

Wall Drug trio Wall Drug boots trio

There’s not much around Badlands NP which is another reason Wall Drug does so well. It’s the perfect launch pad or pitstop. Over 2 million visitors pass through its doors each year and it’s a scheduled stop on many coach tours of the area. It’s an absolute tourist trap but you can’t help but admire the tenacity of a small business stuck in the middle of nowhere being able to turn itself into a mandatory stop for everyone. Yatala Pies has much to learn.

Anthony at Wall Drug, SD

Whatever you buy (and even if you don’t) you’re welcome to wander around to your heart’s content, enjoy a glass of free iced water and take a free bumper sticker so you can spread the word to the four points of the compass that Wall Drug is open for business.

Sth Dakota, Wall Drug Thank You
Wall Drug
Wall, SD
10 comments… add one
  • sherry from sherrys pickings December 8, 2015, 10:24 pm

    you have to admire those americans for their enterprising spirit. anthony looks great in his coonskin cap:)

    • Fiona Ryan December 10, 2015, 12:26 pm

      I’d forgotten all about the cap until I was sorting the photos.

  • Glenda December 8, 2015, 11:55 pm

    Good on them. If you don’t promote yourself no one will.

    • Fiona Ryan December 10, 2015, 12:27 pm

      They have the most amazing variety of billboards (as you can see). It really is in the middle of nowhere so it just goes to show that ‘ya gotta have a gimmick’.

  • Jan Rhoades December 9, 2015, 7:05 am

    Love it. Nice hat Tony P 😱

  • Tandy | Lavender and Lime December 9, 2015, 2:01 pm

    This sounds like a place Jack Reacher would visit 🙂

    • Fiona Ryan December 10, 2015, 12:28 pm

      I hadn’t thought about that. Once visited, never forgotten!

  • Gretchen December 10, 2015, 9:03 pm

    Ah, it’s been so long but I’ve been to Wall Drug as well. It was one of our long family trips, leaving home in Wisconsin and traveling out West with stops all along the way. It didn’t take long for the first Wall Drug billboard to appear and then my brother and I were those kids in the back seat begging their parents to go to Wall Drug! Someday we’ll have to take the boys out there too, hubby included since he hasn’t seen much of the West. Stops at the Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park. Unfortunately it is difficult to do trips like that here as we Americans get so little vacation time and to travel the country by car and take it all in requires lots of time. Those are the trips my mom frequently took us kids on and Dad will fly out and meet us for part of it. Or back in the day he would be at pay phones along the way calling in to work and having things sent to the hotels!

    • Fiona Ryan December 14, 2015, 7:03 pm

      I’m glad I could bring back some memories. We did this trip as part of our visit last year to Grand Teton (complete white out) Yellowstone, Little Big Horn, Mt Rushmore, Badlands, Mese Verde, Monument Valley and Arches National Parks. You have so many fantastic NPs, we try to visit some every time we come. I can understand what you’re saying about time. We are very lucky in Australia when it comes to leave and doubly so in the Commonwealth Government as we get good long service leave and can take leave at half pay to extend our holidays. I love your story about your dad flying out or being at the phone boxes. Different times… different times…

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