Bentonville has a very traditional, very pleasant town square. In its center is a park. In the center of the park is a fountain and a statue. The statue is a tribute to Confederate soldiers. Some locals told me that they will fight to preserve it. Many outsiders and probably some locals would vote to remove it.
Bentonville’s square was renovated while Crystal Bridges was being built. Crystal Bridges, America’s art museum, was announced in 2005. Sam Walton’s daughter Alice, who is reportedly worth $35 billion, put a large part of her inheritance into building this museum and collecting the best American art available. Crystal Bridges has been wildly successful. Ruth & I have been there twice. I blogged about our most recent visit on July 27, 2015.
Bentonville’s square has been redone. Mayor Bob McCaslin led a campaign to renovate it, and in 2007 voters supported a bond issue that raised the city’s sales tax 1% to pay for improvements. Among the businesses on the square is a Walmart Museum. When we first visited it, Ruth & I judged it awful and were in and out in 5 minutes.
In summer, 2015 we had dinner with Ruth’s cousins at Tavola, a sensational Italian restaurant just off the square, and wandered over to see if the Walmart Museum had improved. It had. A lot. In fact, it’s now really worthwhile. At 105 North Main Street, it’s in the original location of a Walton store but not a Walmart.
Sam Walton began what would turn into America’s most famous big box chain humbly. His first operation was a Ben Franklin variety store in Newport, Arkansas. It was 1945 and 5 and 10 cent stores were everywhere. In 1950 Sam bought Harrison’s Variety Store on Bentonville Square and put his name on the business. He soon developed some new retailing ideas, like self-service, and opened his first Wal-Mart discount city in Rogers in 1962. While his operations grew in size and significance, Sam never abandoned his belief in the value of handshakes. He claimed that his retail success was America’s success and that his boss was his customer. By 1969 Sam’s empire contained 18 Walmarts and 17 Ben Franklin variety stores. When the 21st century began, he had 3,996 stores with $165 billion in sales. The flags in the photo above are in the Walton Museum. Each one represents a country where Walmart has stores.
Sam’s beloved 1979 Ford truck with 65,627 miles on its odometer and his personal office are in the Walmart Museum along with old ads and family memorabilia. All is now well displayed. I especially enjoyed this museum’s updates on Sam’s children. Alice lives near Fort Worth, Texas, but visits Crystal Bridges frequently. John, who oversaw the family’s charitable initiatives, died in 2005 when his experimental plane went down near Jackson, Wyoming. He was 57. The Museum’s 1950s soda fountain, the Spark Cafe, has become a popular Square hangout.
It’s a good thing Sam’s last name wasn’t Dudley.