Last Sunday, I went to Wall Drug, and it was nothing short of a religious experience.
The tourist trap in the unlikely town of Wall, South Dakota is known internationally as the largest “drugstore” in the world (in fact, it is a veritable mini-mall, complete with pharmacy, gift and clothing shops, an ice cream parlor, cafe, bookstore, chapel, and a backyard museum of curiosities including a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex that lights up and growls at passersby ).
It seems to be in the middle of nowhere, and it was when Nebraska pharmacist Tom Husted bought the quaint medicine shop in 1931: it’s about 80 miles east of Mount Rushmore, and now just a stone’s throw from the Badlands National Park. Business that first, hot summer was weak. So his wife, Dorothy, came up with the idea to create a sign advertising free ice water! to thirsty travelers clunking on by in their jalopies. Curiosity drew customers, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today the colorful, kitschy signs are unmissable, planted every couple of miles alongside I-90—from Minnesota to Montana. The company spends an estimated $400,000 per year on those, and it work. It got me there. Then again, I love drugstores and quirky roadside sights.
I bought four things: conditioner ($3.69), a purple plastic comb ($0.99), and a cup of the famous five-cent coffee to go with one of the bakery’s famous cake doughnuts. The coffee, for all it’s hype, left a lot to be desired. I thought it tasted…salty. Then again, it was five cents.