“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events to the fun facts only the locals know.
When Ted and Dorothy Hustead purchased Wall Drug 90 years ago, it was the only pharmacy in the area. Unfortunately, the city of Wall is located in remote western South Dakota, so business was slow the first few years. To remedy the lack of store traffic, Dorothy came up with the idea to post signs along the nearby road offering free ice water. The tactic worked, as thirsty travelers ended up buying ice cream and other items with their free drink.
Soon, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was completed 77 miles away in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, and more tourists drove through the area. Then the new interstate highway system turned the road into Interstate 90, and the small pharmacy evolved into a large roadside attraction. The Husteads purchased adjacent land and buildings and expanded the business. Subsequent generations of Husteads added the Western Art Gallery Restaurant and the Mall at Wall Drug Frontier Town. There is also the Backyard, with activities for kids and photo opportunities with a dinosaur, jackalope and mini-Mount Rushmore.
Today, Wall Drug attracts 2 million visitors a year, many on their way to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Badlands National Park or other sites. Expanding on Dorothy’s idea, enthusiasts have erected Wall Drug signs in locations thousands of miles away. Representative Tim Goodwin (R), left, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel whose District 30 includes Wall, says he saw Wall Drug signs across the U.S. and in Germany, France, Switzerland and South Korea while on active duty. “Wall Drug is a world-renowned drugstore,” he says. “Unbelievable, the notoriety of the place.”
Adding to that notoriety, Wall Drug was one of the filming sites for the recent Academy Award-winning movie “Nomadland,” about van dwellers who travel to get temporary jobs. Interest in the movie boosted South Dakota tourism earlier this year.
While Wall Drug is a popular roadside attraction for travelers, it has its appeal among locals, too. Goodwin says he stops in at Wall Drug often because it has so much character—and because he loves the doughnuts. He also buys postcards, which he sends each day to his son, who is deployed to Africa. “Now postcards have kind of gone by the wayside but not at Wall Drug,” Goodwin says. “They have the biggest collection of postcards I have ever seen. This is just one example of how cool the place is.”
The rest of the area is also cool. Other area attractions include Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Woolly Mammoth Site, Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, and the Black Hills and Badlands. “District 30 rocks!” Goodwin says.
Wall Drug still serves free ice water in plastic cups, as well as souvenirs, art, clothing, phone chargers and more. “Everything needs to change to keep with the times,” Goodwin says. “Wall Drug really takes you back in time to when life was simpler.”
The area is also represented in the South Dakota Legislature by Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R) and Representative Trish Ladner (R).
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer.