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Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s first store in Bentonville, Arkansas, has been converted into the official Wal-Mart Museum.

Turkey time is coming. People will be shopping in Wal-Marts across America for their holiday meals and decorations. You can probably even buy an inflatable turkey for your front lawn. You can usually find things at Wal-Mart that tickle almost any fancy.

Time and cost might be an issue for some shoppers, and Wal-Mart provides its customers with a variety of meal selections. If you are a gourmet cook, you can buy and prepare a first-class family Thanksgiving dinner. But if you are in a hurry, you can find turkey breasts, instant mashed potatoes and packaged gravy for an easy quick meal.

I doubt that Sam and his brother James “Bud” Walton ever imagined that their first five-and-dime store would grow into the international corporate giant that it is today and play such a major role in family holiday celebrations.

When my husband retired in 2000, we bought a new motor home. RV life was not new to us as we have had a variety of camping vehicles. But I do not remember camping overnight in parking lots in those days. We were probably looking for campgrounds that were entertaining for our children with playgrounds and swimming pools.

We learned in 2000 that Wal-Mart encouraged overnight parking in its parking lots across America and Canada. We bought Wal-Mart’s large atlas with maps, names and directions to every Wal-Mart in the U.S. and Canada. It is really an advantage to be able to pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot for the night and not have to worry about reservations.

Finding Wal-Mart as we travel across the country is almost like coming home. We know the routine. We look for a spot in an outlying part of the parking lot. We need a level area both for comfort and for our propane refrigerator. Large areas are necessary for turning around and our dogs appreciate a little grassy area. Many times, we meet other campers for cocktails in the evenings. We always feel safe, the lots are well lit and we never have had a problem. It’s true that trucks, cars and people always are coming and going, but that is just part of the scene.

We usually try to stay at a Super Wal-Mart for grocery shopping. There is always something we need, and it’s a good chance to stretch your legs. Wal-Mart carries many necessary items for RV travel, too. We estimated once that we spent around $100 a night for food and supplies. So “free” parking is a good marketing strategy by Wal-Mart.

I understand that Wal-Mart has its problems, but in spite of Wal-Mart’s critics, we have come to appreciate its stores around the country. You can always find what you need as the store layout is usually the same in every store. The employees are helpful, friendly and appreciate their jobs.

So with that background, we have always thought it would be interesting to visit the birthplace of Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Arkansas. This is where Sam and Bud Walton had their first store in 1950 and is the world headquarters of Wal-Mart today.

Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas, are adjoining cities. Former Vintage High School Principal Harrell Miller is from Rogers and remembers those early days when Sam Walton invited his father to invest in this new business. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Both towns are located in northwest Arkansas and are modern, prosperous communities. Bentonville, however, is dominated by the Wal-Mart presence.

The Walton brothers’ first store was a five-and-dime on courthouse square in the heart of town. The Wal-Mart museum is located there now. The store now sells old-fashioned items like Blackjack gum, candy sticks, toys, candles, books and magazines and various Wal-Mart-themed souvenirs. You pass through the store to enter the free museum.

There we learned about the Walton family’s history dating back to pre-World War II days, their service in the Navy and Army during the war and their return when the war was over and their successful careers.

There were lots of family snapshots, personal history, and family artifacts and displays.

Next door to the museum is an old-fashioned ice cream fountain. I wish we still had one like it in Napa. We shared a huge banana split for lunch. Later, we put our fingers in the bullet holes in the brick walls outside. The building across the street had been a bank and was robbed in the 1920s. Bullets were flying that day and a few hit neighboring buildings.

With the success of the Wal-Mart chain, the founders’ families have inherited massive fortunes. A daughter, Alice Walton, has spent more than $317,000,000 on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art located nearby in Bentonville. After finishing our banana splits, we left for a tour of the art museum.

The building itself is something to behold. The architect was the well-known Moshe Safdie, who is known for the dramatic effect with glass walls, curves and patterns. The first director was Don Bacigalupi, who has just been hired by George Lucas for his new museum in Chicago.

Alice Walton has collected American art from paintings of George Washington by Peale to Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, from western landscapes by Moran and Remington to portraits of Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol. The list goes on and on.

The tour of the museum is easy to follow. No one can get lost as you walk around in a huge circle. You start at the beginning, and an hour or two later you are back at the beginning. The inside wall is floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking a landscaped park area with a huge pond and gardens that are a beautiful view from inside.

Touring Crystal Bridges is free with the exception of a charge for an occasional traveling exhibit. There are many extra facilities, too. A gift shop, library, and meeting and classrooms. There are gardens, nature trails and a place for concerts.

If you are hungry go to the restaurant or maybe just have coffee at the coffee bar. They have a large parking lot and a shuttle bus will transport you to the front door. It is a first-class museum and a bit of a surprise for a relatively small town. If you are ever traveling through Arkansas, I would encourage you to visit Crystal Bridges and the growing community of Bentonville, Arkansas.

It’s time to share your happiness and blessings with family and friends this Thanksgiving season. If you shop at Wal-Mart, you can give thanks for the vision of Sam and Bud Walton in creating this American institution. And remember, watch those marshmallows on the yams. Don’t let them burn under the broiler!

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