August 13, 2005




Start: Sturgis, South Dakota
End:
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Mileage: 372 miles
Route taken: Interstate 90 exit at
Sioux Falls.

 

The first sign for one of South Dakota’s biggest tourist attractions in Wall is immediately after you leave Rapid City. It is the beginning of a barrage of advertising for Wall Drug.

There is 56 miles between the two cities and I counted 67 signs for the drug store, though I am certain I missed a couple.

        The ads are crude, with no thought to design and phrases that would make a first-year marketing major cringe. They have been on farmlands for years, grandfathered in after a state law was passed years ago allowing advertising only in commercially zoned areas.

        The company says it spends a few hundred thousand dollars a year on the signs, but they are all over the world, including Vietnam and Amsterdam. They are even on double decker buses in London.

        The ads are definitely effective in South Dakota, where you have a captive audience on the edge of the Badlands.

        The ads work on you in a relentless way, much like a bully poking you in the chest. None of the individual jobs bring pain, but collectively provide punishing pain.

        There are several businesses that use the same advertising philosophy around the country, though not to the degree that Wall Drug does.

        One of those places is South of the Border in South Carolina. The motel, souvenir shop, campground is as Americana as it gets, sans the 97-foot tall Pedro, a Mexican caricature that is the central theme for the tourist attraction.

        The fluorescent green, yellow and red signs bombard you as you travel south from North Carolina all the way to the South Carolina border. The signs start in Georgia if you are traveling north.

        Wall Drug actually began the advertising campaign during World War II. A friend of owner Ted and Dorothy Hustead put signs up overseas and soon GI’s were requesting the signs and putting them up all over Europe.

        It was Dorothy who began the ad campaign in this country. The drug store she and her husband had bought in 1931 was struggling and one day after being awoken from a nap by cars going by the house, she put out a sign advertising soda and offering free water.

        The idea worked, tourists on their way to Mt. Rushmore pulled off and business began to blossom.

        Now the store is a $10 million operation and gets more than two million tourists every year. It has grown from the small drugstore to a more than 75,000 square foot complex complete with restaurant, gift store, outdoor recreation area, and art gallery. It is more than 75,000 square feet.

        The attraction pulls many off the highway on what is a boring stretch of Interstate, breaking up the monotony of a 400-mile drive between Sturgis and Sioux Falls.

        An 80-foot dinosaur greets you and the main street and stores replicate an old Western town.

        It has been my experience that the more signs an attraction offers the more of a tourist trap it is and often it is disappointing.

        Wall Drug, though, is harmless fun, if you don’t go in expecting a lot. Ted Hustead, who died in 1999, had a saying that he didn’t want to make a lot of money from a few people, but a little money from a lot of people.

        It appears he has succeeded. He got $8 from me for a cheeseburger, fries and a soda. It was food, so I ate it and it gave me enough energy to continue down the Interstate until I reached Sioux Falls.

        This highway I have been on before and I know there is little to see, but there is one spot that is breathtakingly out of the ordinary.

        It is before the town of Chamberlain and is a large bridge that hovers over the Missouri River. The view is beautiful, but you can’t stop on the bridge. It was getting close to sunset and I still had 100 miles to go to get to Sioux Falls so I was flying.

        The cop clocked me at 85, but it was probably closer to 90.

 

      It was the weirdest encounter I have had with a cop. He made me sit in the front seat of the car while he wrote a ticket. He didn’t ticket me for speeding, he got me for my handlebars being too high and since California doesn’t have a cooperation pact with other states I had to pay the fine on the spot.

        It was a whopping $20 and doesn’t go on my driving record, so the cop did me a favor by not giving me the $79 speeding ticket.

        After I left him, I got gas and continued doing around 90 down the interstate. I got to Sioux Falls just as the sun was setting.