Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Power of Advertising

Wall Drug
510 Main St.
Wall, SD

As a general rule, I try to avoid tourist traps.

But sometimes a tourist trap is so iconic it morphs into the obligatory.

Wall Drug is one of those places.

It also happened to be the only place in this town of 766 people to get breakfast that didn’t involve a fast-food drive-through window.

And I was hungry.

Like Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug is famous for being famous.

Unlike Kim Kardashian, Wall Drug has never leaked a sex tape onto the internet. As far as I know.

Wall Drug was founded by Dorothy and Ted Hulstead in 1931.

Their friends and family thought they were nuts to buy a drug store in a tiny town on the wind-swept Plaines of South Dakota.

Dorothy’s father said, “Wall is just about as Godforsaken as you can get.”

But the devoutly Catholic Hulsteads liked the local priest and friendly natives -- and were determined to make a living out here on the edge of the Badlands where cattle outnumber people by many multiples.

Dorothy and Ted quickly caught on to the power of advertising, placing billboards on the highway and offering “free ice water” -- a commodity that probably held more value to 1930s pre-air conditioned travelers than it does today.

The Hulsteads also gave traveling customers free Wall Drug signs and bumper stickers.

During World War II, GIs mailed back pictures of their Wall Drug signs and stickers from bases and battlefields around the world.

America was in on the joke.

To this day, you can find signs, stickers and even paid advertisements for this little drug store in rural South Dakota in the most obscure corners of Planet Earth.

From the London Underground to the Taj Mahal, don’t be surprised if you find billboards advertising that Wall Drug is “Only 10,728 Miles Away!!”

The tradition continues.

Wall Drug customers -- almost entirely tourists on their way to local attractions such as Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore -- still can get their “free ice water”, signs and bumper stickers. And coffee for a nickel.

Wall Drug isn’t so little anymore.

It literally takes up one half of downtown Wall -- a sprawling bazaar of Western knickknacks, tourist clutter, Indian artifacts and Wall Drug t-shirts and shot glasses.

Oh, yeah, you can still purchase a bottle of Bayer aspirin and Pepto-Bismol to cure what ails you from last night’s fun (not that there is any to be had in Wall).

Most interesting to me and my growling stomach was the café and donut factory tucked in the back.

In this part of the western Plains you can see for miles and miles across the grasslands dotted with cattle.

Starring from horizon to horizon at so much beef naturally made me hungry.

So I ordered the steak and eggs.

You know. When in Rome.

Or Wall.

The thin New York strip wouldn’t win any Grade A awards, but it was more than an adequate splurge for breakfast.

Charred just enough to be tasty, thin enough to be tender, Wall Drug’s steak and eggs more than satisfied the cravings that had welled up deep inside me after driving past so many cows in my travels through the grasslands of western South Dakota.

The eggs, toast and fried potatoes weren’t much more than an afterthought.

The bacon I tried on the breakfast sandwich, on the other hand, was top notch.

What certainly weren’t an afterthought were the tempting looking donuts piled up next to the take-out counter.

If Wall Drug is famous for anything other than their “free ice water”, then it’s got to be their donuts made right here in their “Donut Factory” in the back of the store.

You simply can’t come to Wall Drug without trying one -- or three.

These babies are fresh donut perfection.

A fried crunchy exterior gives way to a soft sweet cake inside that just melts in your mouth. Capped off with a generous yet not overwhelming dollop of chocolate frosting, I could eat these donuts all day.

In fact, of all the crap sold at Wall Drug from the useful to the useless, their fresh made donuts alone should spare this place from the label “tourist trap.”

By definition a tourist trap is a place travelers feel obligated to stop and spend their money -- but get little of value in return.

But Wall Drug’s donuts are worth a drive from anywhere -- even the Taj Mahal.

Rating: Bought an Obligatory “Wall Drug Gateway to the Badlands” Shirt.

Wall Drug Store Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. From a boy who grew up less than an hour away (that's literally next door on those wind-swept Plains), and whose Mom used to make donuts for the Husteads, you captured the essence of Wall Drug. Nicely done, 757. Nicely done.