It’s a restaurant. It’s an art gallery. It’s a souvenir shop. It’s a western town. Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, is all of those things, plus more, rolled into one. Most of all, it’s a tourist attraction not to miss. It wasn’t always that way, though.
Ted and Dorothy Hustead bought the drug store in Wall, South Dakota in 1931 during the midst of the Great Depression. They curtained off the back 20 feet of the 24 foot by 60 foot building for living space and gave themselves five years to succeed. Times were tough, and the store wasn’t on the main highway through town.
With six months left to the five year mark, during the heat of the summer back when there was no air conditioning, Dorothy suggested they put up signs along the highway advertising free ice water. Ted thought it was a silly idea but went along with it. He and a high school student painted and put up signs, Burma Shave style. Before Ted got back to the store, the first customer showed up. Ted put up 19 more signs, the customers kept coming, and the store kept growing. Today the store is across the street from the original, takes up 76,000 square feet and offers a whole lot more than free ice water.
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The group I traveled with had dinner at Wall Drug’s Western Art Gallery Restaurant, its walls lined with the largest privately owned western and illustration art in the United States.
We dined on a comfort meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. Wall Drug serves 30,000 pounds of roast beef every season. The buffalo burger is popular, too. Wall is famous for their doughnuts, as well. I tasted one and understand why.
After dinner we roamed what seemed like a labyrinth of stores, one connected to another, going this way and that, shops selling souvenirs, western wear, specialty foods, pottery, and lots more.
There is even a traveler’s chapel.
In the open-air backyard picnic area, you can pose for photo ops on the many photo props, like this giant jackalope.
The Back Yard Mall has even more attractions, including an arcade, gem mining, a pizza parlor, and a ferocious dinosaur that comes to life, roaring and smoking, every few minutes.
Today, over eighty years after the first signs were posted, more than 200 signs in South Dakota, Wyoming and North Dakota invite you to visit Wall Drug. Signs have even been posted in London and Paris subways, attracting an international crowd. Run now by the third generation Hustead family, Wall Drug still stands by their original offer: free ice water. They’ll even fill your jug.
Wall Drug is located at 510 Main Street in Wall, South Dakota, off of I-90 Exit 110. You can’t miss it—just follow the signs. Check the web site for hours and more details.
Disclosure: My visit to the Wall Drug was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Wall Drug. However, all opinions in this article are my own.
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2 thoughts on “Wall Drug: From Free Ice Water to Free Fun”
I love road trips and cheesy attractions like this. Wall Drug looks like a fun stop to make.
It’s a tourist trap, but it’s so fun and cheesy, you have to do it. The donuts are delicious, and they still charge only a nickel for a cup of coffee.