Sam Walton‘s original store, Walton’s 5 & 10, in Bentonville hosts the Wal-Mart Museum (formerly the Wal-Mart Visitor’s Center) center. The Wal-Mart Visitor’s Center was opened in 1990 to showcase Wal-Mart history and their contributions to the region. Sam Walton was instrumental in putting that history together (he passed away in 1992), and many associates (Wal-Mart employees) pitched in to help design, plan and even man the visitor’s center.
The original visitor’s center was expanded and remodeled in 2011 to include the original Walton’s 5 & 10 and the adjacent building (the Terry Block building). Formerly, it had just been the Walton’s 5 & 10. So, if you haven’t been in a while, it’s bigger than ever.
The old Walton store is a real, working store which serves kind of like a gift shop. They sell retro toys and candy and have some of the original fixtures. The original green and red floor tiles still there today in the 5&10 were installed in 1951.If you noticed they are mismatched, that’s because Sam saved money by buying off lots of tiles. You can buy Wal-Mart memorabilia and Sam Walton’s book, “Made in America” in the shop too. Some of the pens are actually made from the old roof timbers of Walton’s 5&10 that had to be replaced when the museum was remodeled.
After visiting the store, you enter the museum. The museum contains memorabilia and snippets of Wal-Mart history, including Sam’s famous truck. He was famously frugal and drove a red 1979 Ford F150 pickup truck (there’s a replica in front of the museum). The teeth marks on the steering wheel are from his dog Roy. He has been quoting as saying:
I just don’t believe a big showy lifestyle is appropriate. Why do I drive a pickup truck? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?
You can see more evidence of his frugality he was as you tour a model of his office. Wal-Mart employees tell tales of how frugal and down-to-earth he was. He lived in a modest house and wore modest clothing, quite the opposite of the empire he built. A fun piece of lore is that the painting on the wall won’t hang straight, even when they’ve tried to straighten it. It was exactly that way in Sam’s office.
One of the best parts of the museum is the old-fashioned soda shop. They serve Yarnell’s ice cream, which is an Arkansas brand. Yarnell’s ice cream was the first ice cream brand Sam ever sold in his 5 & 10. Sam liked butter pecan, so the soda shop stocks that flavor. They also have a special Wal-Mart flavor, called spark cream, that is blue and yellow (the Wal-Mart colors). In 2014, The Walmart Museum’s Spark Café served 12,417 gallons of ice cream, that’s 529,792 scoops. According to the Wal-Mart blog, 46,720 of those scoops were spark cream. Some of the best things to try at the museum are the old-fashioned sundaes, shakes and ice cream sodas. It’s hard to find an ice cream soda anymore. You can get an egg cream or a malted in the Spark Cafe.
The Visitors Center is located in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is at 105 North Main Street and, if you’re in Bentonville, it’s impossible to miss!
Hours of Operation / Contact:
Monday–Thursday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday & Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday Noon–9 p.m.
Call 479-277-6851 for more information.
The Online Center has lots of information about Sam Walton and the growth and history of Wal-Mart.
Local’s Point Of View:
The best way I’ve ever heard the Wal-Mart Visitor’s Center described was, “It’s like the Disney World of Wal-mart.” While there are no rides, there’s a gift shop, movies and lots of neat things to check out. I really enjoyed seeing Walton’s old office. It’s a neat look at the history of a retail giant. Even if you hate Wal-mart, you have to admire how it grew up from a little 5 and dime into the empire it is today. As they say, only in America.