Wall Drug is a tourist attraction located in the town of Wall, South Dakota.
It is a sprawling 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 small town drugstore made its first step towards international fame when it was purchased by Ted Hustead in 1931. Hustead was a Nebraska native and pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic church in which to establish his business. He bought Wall Drug, located in a 231-person town in what he referred to as “the middle of nowhere”, and strove to make a living. Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travellers along the road. From that time on business was brisk. Wall Drug grew into an enormous cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store. Wall Drug includes a western art museum, a chapel based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa, and an enormous 80 foot Apatosaurus that can be seen right off Interstate 90. It was designed by Emmet Sullivan who also created the dinosaurs at Dinosaur Park and Dinosaur World.
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. By 1981 Wall Drug was claiming it was giving away 20,000 cups of water per day during the peak tourist season, lasting from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and during the hottest days of the summer.
To date, Wall Drug still offers free ice water, but as they have become more popular, they have started to offer free bumper stickers, signs to aid in promotion, and coffee for 5 cents. One popular free bumper sticker reads “Where the heck is Wall Drug?”
Back when the U.S. Air Force was still operating Minuteman Missile silos in the Western South Dakota plains, Wall Drug used to offer free coffee and donuts to the service men/women if they stopped in on their way to/from Ellsworth AFB (50 miles West on Interstate 90). Wall Drug continues to offer free coffee and a donut to honeymooners, veterans, priests, hunters, truck drivers, and other travelers.
Wall Drug has been featured in Time Magazine as one of the largest tourist attractions in the north. They have over 500 miles of bill boards on Interstate 90, stretching from Minnesota to Billings, Montana. Wall Drug spends an estimated $400,000 on bill board signs every year.
Here is a link to the Wall Drug website.