After Sam Walton left the Army at the end of the Second World War, he considered purchasing a Federated department store franchise in St. Louis with Tom Bates, a former college roommate. Sam’s wife, Helen, was opposed to living in a large city like St. Louis, and preferred to live in a smaller place like her hometown, Claremore, Oklahoma.
As Sam wanted to keep his bride happy, he went to Butler Brothers, the Chicago-based retailer that owned Federated Department Stores, as well as a chain of franchised variety stores, Ben Franklin. After requesting a franchise in a small town, Butler Brothers told him that the Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas, was available.
Sam purchased that store—the name, the fixtures, the merchandise—from St. Louis native George Scharlott and his wife Katherine. Mr. Scharlott was disappointed with the sales at the store, and wanted to leave the small town and head back to St. Louis. Upon purchasing the store, Sam also signed a five-year lease on the building, which was owned by a local department store owner, P. K. Holmes, Sr.
Sam diligently served his Newport customers and grew annual sales at his store from $72,000 to $250,000 over the course of his five years in the town. It became the top-performing Ben Franklin franchise in the region in both sales and profit, despite being in a small town.
At the end of the five years, though, P. K. Holmes decided not to renew the lease. He did offer to purchase the Ben Franklin franchise (including merchandise and fixtures) at a fair price for his son Douglas to begin his retail career. Sam Walton and his family left Newport and settled in northwest Arkansas. He opened another Ben Franklin franchise, Walton’s 5 &10, on the square in Bentonville on March 9, 1950.
The Holmes family graciously donated this Bill of Sale from that Newport Ben Franklin store to The Walmart Museum. We are proud to now display the document that marks the beginning of Sam Walton’s career in retail entrepreneurship.