Sunday, September 17, 2006

Wall Drug: Catholic Center of South Dakota. . . . and the World!

[snip] Back in 1931, Ted Hustead opened a pharmacy in Wall, SD, a tiny town on the High Plains. After struggling for business, his wife suggested that he offer free ice water to thirsty tourists driving west toward Mt. Rushmore. Wall is quite near the arid Badlands and there is no other convenient place to get water nearby, so this was a natural way of drawing attention.

Oh, and Mrs. Hustead told her husband to advertise. In addition to hundreds of billboards all over the Great Plains . . .
. the Husteads enrolled their fans in the promotion. Soon, Wall groupies were putting up signs in Paris (that's the Eiffel Tower in the background), . . . London, Kenya, and both the North and South Poles telling the locals just how many miles it was to Wall Drug. There was even a Wall Drug sign in the antique store window of my tiny hometown in Illinois. Factor in the bumper stickers, which I have noticed even here in Ithaca, and you have a major promotional enterprise.

The plan worked. Now, in addition to the pharmacy, Wall Drug is a sprawling shopping center with a wax museum, a giant collection of Old West photos, and a restaurant where coffee is still only 5 cents.

Okay, so what's so Catholic about all of this? Well, as even the infallible Wikipedia will tell you, the Husteads began their marriage in Nebraska. Ted, a pharmacist, was looking for a place to start up a drugstore of his own. The couple decided on Wall, SD, the "geographical center of nowhere" (but, thanks to them, soon to become the geographical center of the world!) because they were searching for a small town with a Catholic church. Nor did they forget this when their free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and Western-themed shopping center started drawing 20,000 customers a day. One of the attractions of Wall Drug is the Traveler's Chapel, a replica of the chapel at New Melleray Trappist Abbey near Dubuque, IA. So, Wall Drug caters to its customers' spiritual thirst as well as their physical one.

So if you ever find yourself on I-90 in South Dakota, thirsty, and in need of some prayer and solace in an old-style Catholic chapel, just follow the billboards to Wall Drug! The Cornell Society For a Good Time

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