Outrageous American Roadside Attractions
America’s top roadside attractions are highway accidents of a good kind. They’re small, conventional businesses that grew, thanks to desperation-driven innovation and a little luck, into legendary, multi-generational family concerns that draw mind-boggling traffic and profits that their founders little imagined.
More surprising still is that these products of the automobile’s golden age continue to thrive in a time of air travel and triple-digit gas prices. We asked the owners of some of the longest-enduring attractions what allows them to survive.
Read on for some great American roadside attractions:
Wall, South Dakota
In the depths of the Depression, Ted Hustead’s grandmother drew up signs offering travelers free ice water in order to draw business to her husband’s struggling pharmacy in a tiny town near a nascent Mount Rushmore. Today, Wall’s billboards stretch as far as Minnesota and the store, restaurant and gift shop see as many as 15,000 visitors on a summer day. “We’re on our second- and third-generation customer,” says Hustead, grandson of the founders. “Grandparents want to share an experience that they had when they were a kid.”
That experience has evolved “to entertain, educate and do it with world-class aesthetics,” says Hustead. Famous for its ubiquitous bumper stickers, Wall displays a priceless collection of Western art. In addition to its Yosemite and Rushmore souvenir sales, the Husteads do a half-million dollar trade in cowboy boots alone.
South of the Border
Dillon, South Carolina
The border in question is with Robeson County, N.C., less than a mile up Interstate 95, where alcohol was banned when Al Schafer opened his beer stand in 1949. It attracted not only Schafer’s thirsty neighbors, but high-end “Cadillac customers” bound for Florida. When a souvenir salesman traded his samples for beer one day, “they sold as fast as my granddad put them out,” says Ryan Schafer, who owns the complex today with his father.
The Cadillac customers fly now, but thousands of motorists are lured by 175 billboards that begin in