Drive any major highway in South Dakota USA and you cannot avoid seeing one of the many roadside billboards advertising Wall Drug. After seeing so many of these signs, I had to call in and see what all the fuss was about. I am definitely glad I did.
Friends had also told me that I wouldn’t regret a small detour to visit, and they were right. Wall drug is an amazing place to look around, as well as enjoying a meal in their café and restaurant.
This drugstore in the town of Wall started way back in 1931 and has expanded to a delightful tourist destination. More than two million people stop in each year. Any visit to the drugstore and shopping mall will take several hours of perusing, then add shopping and eating to that, and you could easily spend half a day there.
A cup of coffee still costs a nickel (5 cents) and ice water is free, as it always has been at the store.
The backyard of the complex is an entertainment joy with a mock up main street, a giant tyrannosaurs rex that roars, a six-foot rabbit, a giant jackalope, a video arcade, a toy emporium, jumping water jets, a mining and panning experience, a miniature Mt Rushmore diorama, and a large buffalo. All are great spots to take photos, so remember your camera!
I had two favorite areas at Wall drug. One was the historic photo display in the backyard area. More than 1,400 photos are shown with descriptive captions.
My other favorite thing to see was the 300 plus original oil paintings that are hung around the walls in the restaurant and café. These amazing paintings depict the life and times of South Dakota from days before European settlers arrived, to modern life. It is an historical timeline. Also around the walls are various South Dakota cattle brands and the names of ranches, above and below the paintings.
Foodwise, their café can seat 530 people. There is also a sofa fountain selling ice-creams, malts, and drinks. Taste a free sample of their homemade fudge, made with cream and butter, then take a slice or two home. The donut factory makes fresh donuts every day and the smell is sugar heaven. Salt water taffy is also a popular tasty treat sold here. Their hot beef sandwich is the most ordered item on the menu.
In the restaurant, there is an amazing wood carving of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was carved from a 187-year-old cedar tree. A sign on the carving states that it started growing in 1783 and was 35 inches in diameter in 1970. The sign also states that these two, together with their hole in the wall gang, “cut through the South Dakota Badlands on their way to St Louis Missouri. This carving stands on the ashes of their campsite kindled in the summer of 1901”. I am not sure how much of that is true, but the life-sized carving is truly a work of art.
It isn’t just food that attracts people, the stores here sell pharmaceutical items (of course) but different stalls sell a large variety of different wares: Camp and Trail Outfitters, Native American pottery and art, games and puzzles, a rock and gem shop, leather goods, souvenirs, candles and old west posters, just to name a few.
The original owners were devoted Catholics and wanted to have a place where passersby could worship on their travels. Their travelers chapel is still in use.
The history of how this all got started was interesting. In December 1931, Ted Hustead and his wife Dorothy bought a drugstore in the town of Wall, population at that time – 326.
Things were not looking prosperous for the couple, as not many people came to the pharmacy in the small town. However, in 1936 Dorothy had a lightbulb idea. There were lots of cars going by on Route 16A, on their way to see the newly completed Mount Rushmore. Dorothy suggested putting up signs on the highway offering free ice water at Wall drug, to all the hot and thirsty tourists.
This soon had the motorists flocking in, and they bought other items in the store too. The next summer eight girls had to be hired to serve the over twenty thousand people that called in.
Dorothy, the lady with the free ice water idea, passed away in November 1995. Ted passed away in January 1999. Descendants of the couple still operate Wall drug today.
As my friends did to me, I highly recommend a visit to this town and the store. Most of the backyard attractions are free, and family friendly. The food is delicious and the staff friendly. There is so much to see and do, it will take several visits to enjoy every aspect that is available, which will be a pleasure.
510 Main St, Wall, South Dakota, USA
Café 8am-7pm daily, Mall shops 8.30am-7.30pm daily, Pharmacy 8.30am-5pm Mon-Friday
When in the area, I also recommend visiting: