Blame it on Wall Drugs

Greetings from Rapid City, South Dakota!!

The first time I ever drove across the Prairies in Canada, people asked me if I found it boring.  Miles and miles (kilometres and kilometres) of flatness, wheat fields, the odd cornfield, big sky.  I never did find it boring, and I still don’t.

But just in case you do start to nod off on the drive across South Dakota, the kind highway people have now made it more interesting.  It all started with Wall Drugs and their clever ad campaign.  We noticed it in 2003 when we first drove the I-90 heading west.  I believe the first sign for Wall Drugs was about 150 miles out.  They kept appearing on the side of the road in increasing frequency until we got there, just east of Rapid City.  This time, I decided to conduct a statistical survey… it’s not that fascinating a drive, and anything to keep us both awake will do!

I saw the first sign as soon as we got into South Dakota, about 330 miles away from Wall.  By the time we were 200 miles east of Wall (130 miles later, if you are counting), we had seen 17 billboards advertising various attractions of the store, like souvenirs a T-Rex statue and 5 cent coffee. 

Between 150 and 200 miles out there were 14 more billboards.  Wall Drugs also sells leather goods and handmade donuts.  These billboards were not always big – some were very small, very old (the T-Rex sign said “new” but it was really faded), or set in the middle of the farmer’s field, far off the road where you had to look for it.

They must have gotten tired, or maybe people have lifted the signs between 100 and 150 miles east of the store – I only saw 6 billboards for Wall Drugs!

But they made up for it in the next 50 miles – 15 billboards in all. We were getting within 50 miles of the store, and the pressure was on.

In the 30 miles following, we saw 9 billboards.  Between 10 and 20 miles out, there were 11.  And IN THE LAST 10 MILES we saw 22 billboards.  (There was even one AFTER the exit, telling us there was another way – but it was our last chance….). Have you been counting?  By my count, and I’m sure I missed a few, there were 95 billboards – just from the east.  I reckon there are as many on the other side.

The signs got more desperate as we got closer.  By the time we got to Wall, we learned that they sell camping supplies, Western art and home decor, there’s a “shootin’ gallery”, you can pan for minerals (gems and gold), they serve homemade ice cream. They’ve been open since 1931. They also sell boots, hamburgers, pie, wood carvings and cowboy boots. There’s a bar there. There’s a travellers’ chapel.  They offer free coffee and donuts for honeymooners. And if that’s not all, they provide FREE ICE COLD WATER!!  (I guess this might be a selling point in July, but it didn’t do anything for us at the end of October.)

But do they sell drugs?

Now, this would be bad enough, but since we were last through in 1993, other towns and tourist traps must have hired the same promotion company.  There are more billboards on the I-90 in South Dakota than we’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world!  In fact, on the “bald prairie”, there are times when you can’t keep up with the reading as you speed by.  That must be why they put more than one sign up – just in case you missed it.

These include the Sioux Museum, the Corn Palace (only one in the world!), the Old West Trading Post, Al’s Oasis (they say they are the largest shop for 200 miles – I think I know what the next one is: Wall Drugs!), and 1880 Town. They all have MULTITUDES of billboards touting their attractions. In fact, even the quilt shop in Chamberlain put two billboards out on the highway! 

Now, I have a rule that I developed the last time we drove along here: never frequent a place that has to advertise on the highway more than 50 miles out, nor more than twice on a billboard (once is better).

By the time we got to the exit, I felt like I had already been there for hours, and I was shopped out!  We drove right by and continued on into (snowy) Rapid City.

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One Response to “Blame it on Wall Drugs”

  1. Rose Says:

    The signs for Wall Drugs kept me awake on the very long night drive in the early 80’s. (and the beautiful heat lightning) Two teenagers, one dog, one BF and a stationwagon full of camping gear on a 30 day trip across country. It was July and the free water was very needed on arrival. The coffee was next.

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