Two and a Half Decades of Sharing the Walmart Story
The Birthplace of Walmart: The Ideal Showcase for the Walmart Story
What better place to share the story of Walmart than where it all began?
In 1950, Sam Walton opened Walton’s 5&10 on the Bentonville Square. Forty years later, the Walmart Museum opened with Sam Walton’s support and the efforts of a dedicated team of associates.
The First Incarnation: The Walmart Visitors Center
The Walmart Museum, known as the Walmart Visitors Center (WVC) until 2012, was designed and operated with a focus on memorabilia and artifacts presented in cases created by Walmart carpenter Gene Lauer. It featured a large, elevated greeting desk in the lobby and a small assortment of souvenirs. For a time, the greeters, as they were called then, wore gray vests as part of their uniform until a more business-casual approach was taken later on.
Sam’s Passing and the Famous Pickup Truck
Then, in 1992, after Sam Walton’s passing, the WVC was expanded to include Sam’s famous pickup and more exhibits. Nobody wanted to risk driving Sam’s truck into the museum from the outside, but Betty Holmes got behind the wheel without hesitation and drove it inside. It remained there until 2010, when it was removed to undergo a process of conservation—not a restoration—to halt deterioration but include all the original dents, dings, and scratches.
Meeting the Needs of a Downtown Renaissance
In 2009, with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and a renaissance about to get under way in downtown Bentonville, the Walmart Museum moved around the corner into a temporary home on West Central Avenue. The time had come for a renovation and update to the exhibits and interactive experiences.
Discovery During the Remodel
Many things were discovered during the renovation, which took the original 5&10 building and the building it connected to—the Terry Block Building—down to its bare, original brick walls. During this phase, it was discovered that the 5&10 building is the oldest building on the Bentonville Square, dating back to the mid 1800s.
Welcoming Visitors by the Thousands
With its grand re-opening in May of 2011, the museum’s rebirth came just months before Crystal Bridges’ opening in November the same year. As traffic increased to Northwest Arkansas and businesses around the square began to experience a renaissance, a new spotlight was on Walton’s 5&10 and Walmart’s history. Since then, annual visitor traffic has grown to 6 times what it was prior to the grand re-opening, and the 5&10 and Spark Café Soda Fountain have become popular locations for both tourists and the local community. Shopping at Walton’s 5&10 and gathering at the Spark Café have become part of everyday life for residents and visitors from nearby towns in the region.
Why the Name Change?
Sam had originally planned to name the museum The Walmart Museum. But after a trip to the Hallmark Visitors Center in Kansas City, he liked what they had done and decided to emulate their naming convention as well.
Over the years, however, the term “visitors center” was more widely adopted by state and local tourism offices than corporate museums. With Bentonville’s own visitors center right across the street from Walton’s 5&10, the move to change the museum’s name to “The Walmart Museum” came naturally. The name change made it crystal clear that it was a museum, clearing up a lot of confusion for out-of-town visitors. Approved by the Walton family and Walmart’s senior leadership, signage was created by Walmart’s internal sign shop—the same shop that creates the signs that light up on the fronts and sides of Walmart stores in the U.S.