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Rare Walmart Photos: How We Shopped In The '60s & '70s

Culture | May 30, 2018

Left: The first Walmart store, opened in 1962. Right: Sam Walton in a bargain-rich 'Action Alley' in a Walmart in the '60s. Source: walmartmuseum.com

Today, Walmart is ubiquitous. In 2019, there are 4,769 Walmart stores in the United States, and a recent study found that 95% of American consumers buy something from a Walmart store or walmart.com in any given year. From its founding by Sam Walton in 1962, Walmart has grown up with many of us, through the swinging '60s and groovy '70s. Have you been to a Walmart this week? Have you been to one today? Are you in a Walmart right now? Here's a look back at Walmarts of the past.

The First Walmart Store

Wal-Mart in 1976

No one could have envisioned how much Walmart stores have changed since the 1960s and '70s, not even the store’s famous founder, Sam Walton. The growth of the mega-chain was spurred on by Walton’s desire to give customers what they want at the best price available. Vintage photos of Walmart stores give a glimpse into the early beginning of the world’s largest retail chain.

The first Walmart opened in Rogers, Arkansas -- not Bentonville -- on July 2, 1962. The Bentonville store was Walton's Five and Dime.

From Small-Town Five and Dime to Global Empire

Walton opened a small five and dime store in Bentonville, Arkansas, in the 1950s, but had his eye on expansion. He built an empire of five-and-dime stores -- 16 in all, with 15 of them being Ben Franklin franchises.

The profits he saved allowed him to open his first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. His business model was simple -- buy in bulk and pass the savings on to the customer. His competitors thought he was nuts for reducing his own profit margin, but more Walmart stores soon followed and the company targeted frugal housewives looking to stretch their household budgets by purchasing low cost goods.

Walmart Has Come A Long Way, Baby

Walmart went public in 1970, and experienced a rapid growth. More and more stores were popping up across the southern United States and Walton set his sights on the rest of the country. By the mid-1970s, Walmart stores were spreading like wild-fire, with 125 total stores and annual sales of more that $340 million. Additionally, Walton employed approximately 7,500 employees. 

The Walmart Experience

Source: facebook.com/walmartmuseum

Walton’s philosophy was that if customers had a pleasant shopping experience, they would keep coming back. He relied on his army of sales associates to drive his customer-first policy, and sweetened the deal by making his employees partners in the success of the company. Walton believed that the person-to-person interactions and relationships is what built Walmart into an international success.

The Right Store At The Right Time

Left: Flyer advertising the opening of the first Walmart in 1962. Right: A Sam's Club in the '80s.

The Walmart stores of the 1960s and 1970s carried everything from household goods to clothing and even grocery items – though the Walmart SuperCenter was an 1980s introduction –and customers found they could save time by making all their purchases in one place instead of driving from store to store. This was especially important during the gas shortages of the 1970s.

Walmart Offered A One-Stop Shop

Now, shoppers had a one-stop place for the bulk of their needs and the marketing shifted from targeting housewives to also targeting their husbands. After all, as more and more women entered the workforce, men were tasked with running some of the household errands. The addition of lawn and garden and automotive sections in the Walmart stores also appealed to male shoppers.

These Walmart Photos From The 1970s Show How Much The Chain Has Changed

Walmart acquired two existing store chains in 1977…Mohr-Value stores and Hutcheson Shoe Company. These purchases allowed Walmart to expand into small towns throughout the midwestern United States. Walmart’s biggest rival was Woolco, owned by the Woolworth Company. Unlike the Woolworth five and dime stores, Woolco was a full-fledged low-cost department store. As Walmart stores flourished, Woolco stores declined. The chain was eventually purchased by Walmart, which allowed Walmart to move into Canada. In the late 1970s, Walmart stores added additional services for their customers, including automotive service centers, pharmacies, one-hour photo developing, and jewelry counters.

The earliest Walmart stores may have had classic Chevys in the parking lot and dress-wearing housewives shopping for household goods, but the stage was being set for an explosion of growth for the store chain that has grown and adapted to the changing face of the American consumer and the demands for more and more convenience services…all offer at the traditional Walmart low-cost prices.

Tags: Rare Photos From... | The 1960s | The 1970s | Walmart

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.