Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Wall Drug, founded during Depression, endures

July 1, 2009, 2:32 pm

Ted Hustead's family knows a thing or two about running a tourist attraction during tough economic times.

Consider Wall Drug, on the north edge of South Dakota's Badlands.

Hustead's grandparents, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, bought the store in this small town in 1931 -- during the Great Depression.

Business limped along for nearly five years until Dorothy Hustead thought of putting up road signs along the nearby highway offering free ice water to weary travelers headed to the Black Hills and Yellowstone.

That advertising campaign turned Wall Drug into an international icon, elevating it from a roadside stop to a tourist attraction that draws about 2 million visitors a year. Wall Drug signs have been erected around the world.

Now, the nation is enduring the toughest economic stretch since the Depression. And though business was down 4.6 percent in April compared to last year, Ted Hustead said he's optimistic about the 2009 tourism season.

Still, he acknowledges the economy hasn't been in the same situation since his grandparents bought the place.

"Typically we've been pretty recession-proof," he said.

"Same marketing plan. Still in the middle of nowhere. Still successful entertainment that kind of surprises a lot of people."