Five Cent Coffee at Wall Drug, South Dakota

Inflation is an American indisposition these days, it’s no secret. There used to be a joke in these parts, and it’s died off after a couple of generations: “You can’t buy anything for a dollar anymore, save for a cup of coffee.”

Laugh if you like, I’m doing that very thing while writing this post. Starbucks has always been astronomically overpriced and yet java hounds if are hooked on their brews, ditto for the sugar addicted. A simple Grande size (which anyone knows “Grande” is the biggest misnomer in our nation’s entire commerce) cup of Pike Place Roast coffee will drop you for $2.19. That’s just an ordinary cup of coffee to those who need fancy lattes or double shot espressos. Hit any small-time gourmet or boutique coffee shop out there, the song (and pricing) remains the same. I’m a coffee connoisseur and trained by the best, my pot-a-day drinking stepfather who once had to drink coffee in Vietnam with hot water run through a jeep radiator. He taught me the difference between sludge and true Kona Hawaiian blend, the latter being the finest coffee around.

Positioned maybe a hundred springs from a jackelope out of the famous Badlands in Wall, South Dakota is the equally renowned Wall Drug Store, or simply, Wall Drug. Dropped right off the wide-open Route 90, if you miss Wall Drug, that’s your fault entirely. There are an easy hundred billboards planted along the interstate, similar to South of the Border signs scrolling down the east coast slide of Interstate 95. Wall Drug’s cutesy and often hilarious signs are a way to escape the monotony of the rolling plains until you hit the more scenic slopes and gulleys leading into Rapid City.

The genius of Ted and Dorothy Husted in putting together an American treasure, or to some people, a tourist trap, is a story in economics that should be taught at the university level. Yet the simplicity and flat-out ballsiness to pimp your drug store, the only of its kind for countless miles back in the Great Depression era to offer “Free Water” for a stopover…you can still see those giddy signs and shake your head at them. Naivete? Absolutely not. Wall Drug has you hooked, each billboard whooshing by at 80 miles an hour. At top speed, you’re gonna see every one of them, and you’re gonna stop, I promise.

Seriously, if see the above sign and you love coffee or you’re driving a long haul with need of a spark to carry on into Wyoming, how could you possibly resist the novelty (and practicality) of a cup of coffee costing you a mere nickel?

It’s no joke, you can get a cup of coffee at Wall Drug for five cents. A silver, smooth-edged Jefferson. It’s brilliant marketing. Free water, nickel coffee. Once you swing into Wall Drug, they have you, and you likely won’t leave for a while, especially not without something else. Food, toys, Badlands souvenirs, western wear, boots, and yes, there is still an actual pharmacy. There’s a whole lot more at Wall Drug to do than just buy things, especially if you have young children. It becomes an investment of time stop, so plan accordingly. Yes, it sounds preposterous, but yes, you will hang at Wall Drug for more than a spell. It’s no fair to you if I spoil things, but do be on the lookout for animatronics, dinosaurs, and saloon-styled decorations, if not actual saloon-styled imbibing.

Okay, bean freaks, so you want to know how Wall Drug’s five cent coffee tastes? Well, my friends, you be the judge. If you’re expecting Peets, Dunkin, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme or even Kung Fu Tea, abandon all hope. Five cents gets you a ceramic cup like you might have had at an old Woolworth’s Five and Dime planted at their cafe counter, and the taste is about the same. You gotta do it just to say you did it.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

8 thoughts on “Five Cent Coffee at Wall Drug, South Dakota

    • LOL, yeah, I had just started drinking coffee here and there age 13 and my grandfather parked us at the counter. He smirked when he saw my less than enthusiastic response to Woolworth coffee. I pounded it gone since it was lukewarm and ordered a chocolate milk, lol

      Liked by 1 person

    • This is true, but yeah, internet commerce has ruled and you have to have an extra special gimmick or historical value to pull something like Wall Drug off. Even they know the key to relevance in the modern age is to add kiddie attractions spotted in the back lot of emporium.

      Liked by 1 person

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