Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for December 18, 2013

With Christmas upon us, there is little doubt that the cash registers will be busy at the 11,000 stores owned by Wal-Mart. But what allowed Wal-Mart to rapidly expand into such a global juggernaut? An important facet of that answer is Eureka Springs and our roads.

Sam Walton always said he managed by walking around, keeping an eye on things at as many stores as he could while continually teaching his philosophy and managing the rollout of his plans. In the early days, he was frustrated by the roads in the Ozarks, but as Vance H. Trimble wrote in his biography Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man, “But one evening as he tooled along the corkscrew curves on U.S. Highway 62 through Eureka Springs he heard the drone of a small airplane.” That gave him an idea that eventually led to a pilot’s license and an airplane. As Vance H. Trimble says in the book, “Without this magic carpet, his Wal-Mart phenomenon never would have seen the light of day.”

When I was a kid, Grandpa Jack McCall and I encountered Sam Walton at the old Berryville Wal-Mart. The mantle had burned out on Grandpa’s Coleman lantern and he needed another one. We were wandering around the store when we bumped into this older guy who obviously worked for Wal-Mart. Grandpa asked where the mantles were. The older man didn’t know but said they’d sure find them. Three Wal-Mart associates who’d been lurking around the corner appeared and took Grandpa by the arm to the mantles. After we left, I asked Grandpa if he knew who the old man was. Grandpa shook his head. I said that it was Sam Walton, owner of Wal-Mart, the richest man in America. Grandpa said that if he owned the store, he should’ve known where the mantles were. He was not impressed.

Sam is gone now, but after skimming the Forbes list of the wealthiest people, it appears the Walton family is still doing okay. Lumping together the reported net worth of the six heirs of brothers Sam and Bud Walton gives a respectable total of $145 billion or so, enough to rank as the richest family in the world.