by Jasmine Ainetchian

Our week in the four-county Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area (Rogers, Fayetteville, Bentonville, and Springdale) was decidedly marked by the presence of Wal-Mart’s Home Office as well as the legacy of the Walton family that has permeated all facets of the communities here. Despite being the largest retailer in the world and largest public corporation, the company is still owned by the Waltons – a family about which nearly every Northwest Arkansas resident has a personal story to recount. Some stories are familiar, such as Sam Walton’s legendary frugality, and others reveal the community’s reverence for a man who based his enterprise on the importance of low prices to make life better for his customers.

Over the week, we visited the beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (founded by Alice Walton in 2011), the original Walton Five and Dime shop, and the Wal-Mart Home Office to meet with CFO Charles Holley.

But beyond these glimpses of Sam’s legacy, we spent the week alongside Chris Gilreath, founder of Recycled Hydro Solutions, and observed his similar humble ingenuity. After working in the restaurant industry, Chris was struck with the great amount of water-waste generated in stores. He set out to save water and to save restaurants money on their water bills through the invention of the Rinsewell dipper-well system to replace the current continuous flow sinks used in ice cream and coffee shops across the U.S.  Through this experience, we won’t see Arkansas the same again.  We were warmly welcomed into the NWA community and as Chris said “You are part of the family now.” It was how we felt all week.

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