It was 50 years ago today …

… that Sam Walton opened his first store in the chain that became Wal-Mart.

On the 2nd July 1962, Wal-Mart store #1 opened in Rogers, Arkansas. This was not Sam Walton’s first foray into retailing – indeed he had been involved for many years – but the combination of a focus on discounting and the scale of the store, marked out this new venture. The rest, as they say, is history. Retailing, certainly in North America, would never be the same again.

Wal-Mart’s legacy is not without problems or controversies (most recently in Mexico) and its impact is not universally welcomed, but the chain also has its strong admirers, and has become a retail phenomenon.

When that store opened on the 2nd July, could we have ever suspected quite what it heralded? And why this chain, as opposed to one of the others that was beginning to have the same ideas? How, if ever, could we have spotted this “winner” at that time?

Which makes one think about all the new stores opening today. On Wal-Mart’s centenary in 2062 will we (well, not me) be reminiscing about what was Wal-Mart or what is Wal-Mart? Will the next 50 years bring as much change in retailing as that opening day in Rogers did? Or has the internet/Amazon meant the end of retail history?

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
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