Bentonville – Mr. Walton’s Neighborhood

Prior to full time RVing, Walmart was never our store of choice, we just didn’t shop there.   If we needed something more than a grocery store, Target was our go to store.  I had always found Walmart to be crowded and chaotic with a long check out line.  I can remember shopping there years ago late one night.   I thought it would be a simple process to stop in to purchase one needed item.   Since it was almost midnight, I figured hardly anyone would be shopping.  I was wrong as there were lines at each checkout and they were at a standstill due to issues at the registers.  When I could finally pay for my purchase, I asked the cashier the best time to shop at Walmart to beat the crowds.  She answered that at 2:00 a.m., it was usually pretty slow.  After that trip, I pretty much avoided the store.

It seems to me now the Walmart Super Centers are bigger and easier to shop in, with more check stands and even self check stands.  After taking off in our RV full time we found that Walmarts as we expected, were almost every where we traveled, even in small towns.  They have most of the things that we need and can get in one stop shopping.  For example, in one trip we got a shirt for Mark, special toilet paper for our trailer, frozen food items and fresh vegetables and fruit.  We are shopping at Walmart regularly now, something I would not have anticipated, but things change when you are on the road.  We also hit local grocery stores and chains when we can, depending on what is available.  I do miss the stores that we used to shop in while living in Modesto, mostly Raley’s for the produce.

Mr. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart began his store in the town of Bentonville, Arkansas when he opened Walton’s 5 &10 in 1950, buying a previously owned variety store.  He extensively remodeled the store calling it the most modern variety store in Northwest Arkansas.

In 1962, Walton opened his first Walmart.  By the end of the decade, he had a chain of 18 stores in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.  He built his chain on the basis of offering the lowest prices to be found any where.  In the 1970’s, the store went national and in 1979, Walmart became the first company to reach $1 billion in sales in such a short time.  By 1990, Walmart was the nation’s number one retailer.

In March 1992, Walton was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, recognizing his contributions to community and country.   Mr. Walton’s comments when receiving the medal included the following:  “If we work together, we’ll lower the cost of living for everyone …. we’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life.”  Mr. Walton passed away on April 5, 1992, shortly after receiving the medal.

The building that housed the five and dime store is now the Walton museum and through sign boards, memorabilia, photography and film showcases how Mr. Walton built his empire.  The small and free museum located on the historic town square (picture above), is an interesting visit and rather humble in scope for someone who built such a huge empire.   Below is a picture of Walton’s office, preserved in the museum as it was the day he died.

Walton’s old 1979 Ford half ton pickup truck can also be seen in the museum.   Walton reported, “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?”  The original papers, registration, keys and sunglasses were all found in the truck just the way he left it and are on display next to the truck.

The most amusing exhibit includes famous customer returns such as a mixer that a customer said was “possessed,” a pencil sharpener that didn’t sharpen ink pens, an outdoor thermometer that never had the correct time, a mangled tennis racket that a customer said he could not serve well with, a fishing pole that didn’t work – no fish.  Below is a picture of returns.

When finished looking at the museum, one can visit the old fashioned soda fountain that serves up ice cream treats.  In addition, there is still a small 5&10 store that has souvenirs, toys and candy from a bygone era – I couldn’t resist getting a little of my past favorites, have you had a Bit-O-Honey or Mary Jane candy lately?

In the town of Bentonville is another Walton creation, Crystal Bridges Museum, one of my highlights of the trip so far.   This one of a kind art museum features hundreds of works by American masters from colonial times to the present.

The exhibits are wonderful, but the unusual building set in a ravine and surrounded by Ozark forest is worth a visit in itself.  The building is a series of pavilions around two spring fed ponds with lots of views to the outside.

Crystal Bridges was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation as a nonprofit charitable organization.  There is no admission cost except for special exhibits.  Below is one of my favorite paintings exhibited, “The Lantern Bearers” by Maxfield Parrish.

Outside there are miles of trails as well as sculptures, streams, ponds and bridges to enjoy.  I could spend hours at this place which I did.

I really enjoy Chihuly glass and there was a temporary exhibit called “Chihuly in the Forest.”  There were about eight installations of his work set among the trees near a winding path.

Below is a picture of one of my favorites, the Fiori Boat.  The inspiration for this was when Chihuly was in Finland and he floated pieces of glass downstream in a river where teenagers retrieved them in rowboats.

The Sole D’Oro sculpture features 1400 hand blown pieces of glass and weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

Many of the trees on the museum grounds were showing some fall colors.  A great place for walking or sitting and enjoying the forest.

While staying in northwest Arkansas we visited a Walmart in Bentonville.  It is located right across the street from the Walmart headquarters offices and Mark commented that we would find this store looking very spruced up.    When we walked in we saw that the floors were highly polished, much more than most Walmarts we have visited.  The rest of the store looked pretty good too.  This store probably has to keep a  high standard since they are located in Mr. Walton’s town.

Thanks for reading this and for your comments.  We appreciate the feedback!

4 thoughts on “Bentonville – Mr. Walton’s Neighborhood”

  1. Imagine finding Chihuly glass in the forest!! That’s amazing. I would have LOVED seeing that. The commentary on Walmart was so fascinating. Quite the success story!!
    Sounds like a great trip! You certainly have put together a great itinerary!
    Safe travels,
    Arlene

    1. Thanks for your comment Arlene! Appreciate your support! The whole Crystal Bridges Museum was amazing, including the Chihuly glass in the forest. I had been wanting to visit for some time and was so glad Chihuly glass was there when we visited as it is a temporary exhibit.

  2. Fantastic article. Love Chihuly. Wal Mart is definitely a way of life for full timers, and part timers a like, however I do have mixed feelings about the business as a whole. Seeing the charitable side of the business would be good to see another side of the company. Definitely find it fascinating how different in quality Wal Marts are from region to region. Mr. Walton is a significant person in business history, would love to learn more about him. Very fun read

    1. Thanks Matt! I agree with the mixed feelings about Walmart. The prices are great, it is convenient and they have so much merchandise, but I feel bad for the smaller businesses trying to compete out there. I prefer to shop in a smaller grocery store. The Walmart museum did have exhibits about the charitable side of Walmart and how their employees are encouraged to participate in helping others as well.

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