Rural success stories

Before Covid most businesses didn’t have to try and operate without a full staff. More and more we see various enterprises that close for a day or more per week or drastically limit their hours, just to work with the staff they have. We all expected things to get “back to normal” once the virus subsided, but that hasn’t happened. No matter where you go and in a vast number of businesses, there is still a shortage of workers. Where did they go? On what are they living now that the government benefits are no longer being doled out hand over fist?

There are varying answers. Some workers have retired, others were promoted leaving their previous positions unfilled. Perhaps other reasons factored in, but the third one I’ve noticed is those who went into business for themselves. Entrepreneurs who may have had an idea in the back of their minds but didn’t have the time nor money to try it out, found that they had both during the lockdown and with subsequent windfalls from the government. In this group are those who dabbled in an experimental business, discovered they liked it and were good at it, so they dived in. Once they got through the basic hurdles, they usually found that they also made more money than working for someone else. And, the money is theirs. So are the debts, and all of the difficulties as well as the much longer hours of work. Those are the challenges of entrepreneurship.

One of the first steps is figuring out what the public needs or wants. One of the smartest entrepreneurial moves I’ve seen in South Dakota has a historic background. It was in the Dirty Thirties when people had little money and as they traveled to hopefully new jobs, they were hot and thirsty. A young couple purchased a pharmacy and typically, it included a soda fountain.  

Jean Hustead, wife of pharmacist Ted, thought of what these voyagers would want the most. In 1935 she had the idea of putting up signs “Free Ice Water, Wall Drug Store.” When customers started coming in, Ted decided he would put up more signs.

These days Wall Drug spends around $350,000 annually on signs and 20,000 people come into Wall Drug daily during the tourist season. In addition to the free ice water and the pharmacy, the location has a restaurant, fresh donuts, a western wear store, a lovely bookstore, a huge room of Western art, and any sort of touristy kitsch that could be desired. The place covers nearly two acres, and is comprised of multiple adjoining buildings, each one divided up into specific sales areas. The walls are lined with news articles that have appeared in newspapers and magazines from around the world. During the tourism season, the Backyard Mall has a food parlor and several activity centers to entertain all ages.

Wall, South Dakota has a current population of 900, which gives inspiration that even if an idea is small, it can grow into a grand enterprise. It also goes to show when an entrepreneur determines what a community wants, great things can happen, if a needed product is provided and advertised well.

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