Wall Drug Store
510 Main St.
As a general rule, I try to avoid tourist traps.
But sometimes a tourist trap is so iconic, it morphs into the obligatory.
And Wall Drug Store is one of those places.
It also happens to be the only place this town of 766 people can get breakfast that doesn’t involve a drive-thru.
And I was hungry.
Like the Kardashians, Wall Drug is famous for being famous.
Founded by Dorothy and Ted Hulstead in 1931, their friends and family thought they were nuts to buy a drug store in a small town on the windswept plains 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 the friendly natives—and they were determined to succeed in this tiny town where the cattle outnumbered the people, by a lot.
Fortunately, Dorothy and Ted caught on quick to the power of advertising and placed billboards along the highway advertising “free ice water”—a commodity that likely held much more value back in those pre-air conditioning days.
The Hulsteads would also give their traveling customers complementary Wall Drug signs and bumper stickers. Smart, huh?
And by World War II, GIs were mailing back pictures of their Wall Drug signs and stickers from bases and battlefields all over the world.
America was in on the joke.
To this day, you will still find signs, stickers, and even paid advertisements of this little drug store in the most obscure corners of the 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!!”
And so the tradition continues.
Wall Drug customers—almost entirely tourists on their way to the Badlands National Park or Mount Rushmore—still get their “free ice water,” signs, and bumper stickers. And coffee for a nickel!
But Wall Drug isn’t so little anymore. It now literally takes up half of downtown Wall with a sprawling bazaar of Western knick-knacks, tourist clutter, Indian artifacts and Wall Drug t-shirts and shot glasses.
Oh, and you can still purchase a bottle of Bayer aspirin and Pepto-Bismol to cure whatever ails you from last night’s fun—not that there’s much to be had ‘round these parts I imagine.
But most interesting to my growling stomach was the café and donut factory tucked away in the back.
In this part of the western plains, you can see the cattle grazing on the grasslands for miles and miles.
Staring from horizon to horizon at so much beef naturally made me hungry, so I ordered the steak and eggs.
You know. When in Rome.
The thin New York strip wouldn’t win any Grade A award, but it was more than an enough for breakfast.
Charred just enough to be tasty, thin enough to be tender, Wall Drug’s steak and eggs more than satisfied me.
The eggs, toast, and fried potatoes weren’t much to speak of by themselves… but made into a breakfast sandwich, it was top notch.
And how about those tempting fresh donuts piled up next to the take-out counter?
If Wall Drug is famous for anything, aside from their “free ice water,” then it’s got to be their donuts made right here in the back of the store.
You simply can’t come to Wall Drug without trying one — or three.
These babies are fresh and the cake dough melts in your mouth. And with the perfect amount of chocolate frosting, I could eat these donuts all day.
Of all the crap sold here at Wall Drug, from the useful to the useless, their donuts alone spare this place from being labeled a tourist trap.
Afterall, a tourist trap is a place where travelers feel obligated to spend their money – and receive little of value in return.
But Wall Drug’s donuts are worth the drive from anywhere—even the Taj Mahal.
Rating: Bought an Obligatory “Wall Drug Gateway to the Badlands” Shirt.