The Beginning of Big

Walmart 60th

Walmart’s Hypermarts redefined shopping. Today’s Supercenters carry their legacy.

The year was 1987, and entrepreneurship was in the air—along with the smell of lobsters and hairspray, and the sound of roller skates across a polished floor. The location was the very first Hypermart. It was the beginning of big for Walmart—and the start of an approach that would forever change retail.

In the center of the Hypermart, in the space that might be a food court in a modern mall, was Sam Walton, sitting unassumingly on a pile of pallets.


Mr. Sam had visited the Hypermart, as he did so many other stores, to talk to the associates there. To see what gave the format its flair.


The Hypermart was one of the earliest “combination stores”—designed to house grocery and general merchandise alongside one another. It was a joint venture between Walmart and Cullum Companies, Inc., which then operated Tom Thumb supermarkets in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.


Mr. Sam would later call Hypermarts “an experiment.” And like many experiments, their formulation may not have been perfect. But they sure produced valuable takeaways.


Each time Mr. Sam visited a Hypermart, he learned that breadth of merchandise—the variety of products available—was a new motivator for customers. But shoppers were still looking for a place they could count on for Every Day Low Prices.


It was in these stores that Mr. Sam and then-CEO David Glass, began to refine the approach to value, merchandise assortment and one-stop shopping that make Walmart what it is today.


And when you look back at the history of the Hypermart, you can see where experimentation created a new way forward and, in a few examples, where innovations were left behind.


The Hypermart’s biggest draw was its massive size.

The first store, which opened in Garland, Texas, was 213,000 square feet. And it had a little bit of everything.

There was a photo processing center, a tortilla factory, a full-service seafood shop, a hair salon, a portrait studio, a video rental store, a food court and even a supervised play area for kids. (If this wild variety sounds strange now, imagine how it must have seemed in 1980s middle America!)

But in news that won’t shock a modern reader, the concept worked! And it worked well. On its first day, the Garland store attracted an estimated 20,000 visitors.

A month later, the second Hypermart opened in Topeka, Kansas. It was so popular that Topeka’s public transit authority added routes from downtown to stop at the Hypermart.

Two more stores would open in Arlington, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, as the concept expanded.

One of the draws of the K.C. location was its innovative “Wall of Value,” which was stocked with items offered at huge discounts. It attracted customers who were in the market for savings without sacrificing quality–and included a commitment to buying or manufacturing American goods, whenever possible.


Another draw? One of the Hypermart’s few innovations that didn’t stick around: roller skating associates! The massive size of the spaces made roller skates an ideal option for zooming through the stores. But only if you could actually control them.

A letter from an associate, penned in the late 1980s, summarized the issue:


“We had people that were roller skating that did not really know what they were doing. They didn’t know how to stop,” wrote Joann, an associate at Store 4553 and the Kansas City Hypermart. “The customers would see them coming, and the customers would part like the Red Sea because these people were coming to the counter!”

While not every idea that came from the Hypermarts was successful, more of them were. The store format was a proof of concept. It was a giant space, which saw giant success.


Ultimately, due to the nature of the partnership Walmart was in to own the Hypermarts, they would close because of the cost and complication of operating independently of Walmart’s merchandising and distribution systems.


From their proverbial ashes rose the cornerstone of modern retail: The Walmart Supercenter.


The learnings of the Hypermart—value, assortment, availability and innovation—are what define Walmart today.

Now, those same learnings are reflected in drone deliveries, mobile ordering and of course, Every Day Low Prices.

With 3,500 Supercenters serving customers in the U.S., and more than 1,100 in nine other countries, it’s safe to say the Hypermart left a legacy. As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Walmart, we look to this legacy of innovation as an inspiration. It is also a challenge: to keep the promise of the Hypermart alive in its successor as we make every wall into a “Wall of Value.”


As we celebrate Walmart’s 60th anniversary, we’re featuring stores and stories from around the Walmart World.