Stephen F. Austin State University

The Day Sam Walton Came to Jacksonville and Removed the Sign (September 2011)

The Day Sam Walton Came to Jacksonville and Removed the Sign
By Deborah Burkett

Recently Jacksonville lost one of its finest. Ralph Crouch was a self made man who established Discount City, the iconic store located at the intersection of Bolton Street and US Highway 79. Much can be said about Mr. Crouch's lifelong accomplishments and the religious and civic organizations he supported. But this column will focus on one event, a business encounter in the 1970s which illustrates how confidence and resolve can move mountains-even if that mountain happened to be Wal-Mart.

Mr. Crouch explained, "When Wal-Mart intended to open in Jacksonville I had already pre-registered the name Discount City in Cherokee County and no one else in the county was supposed to use it… I observed as their building went up and saw their sign which said Wal-Mart Discount City …"

He continued, "I had my lawyer write to Arkansas and I got a snippy letter back that said 'wherever they went they used that name'… My lawyer asked 'what do we do next?' I said go ahead and file suit, I guess…"

Later Mr. Crouch received a phone call from Mr. Walton who explained his attorney had taken it upon himself to respond and that he had no knowledge of the letter. He was coming to town, wanted to talk and had made arrangements for an office in the bank building.

In that face to face meeting, Mr. Walton reportedly said that he didn't much care for the law suit and didn't image Mr. Crouch did either…He wanted to know what he had to do. What did Mr. Crouch expect?

Mr. Crouch replied, "All I want is to get the name right-get the name Discount City off your building…" Mr. Walton said that he would take care of it. And indeed he did. That very afternoon the sign came down and that was the end of that.

Looking back these two men had a lot in common. Ralph and Sam were small town boys who grew up during the Depression, worked hard and possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. Both made sure the shelves were consistently stocked with a wide range of goods and both conducted business with dignity, honesty and common sense.

(Note: Details for this column were taken from an oral history video recorded by Deborah Burkett October 2, 2009. During a joint interview, Ralph Crouch and Roland Offord discussed Jacksonville businesses. Mr. Crouch passed away August 25, 2011.)