Wawa is going through some stuff right now. But like the adage says, when you’re going through hell, keep going.
At just under 3,000 square feet, the shorti prototype store at 16th and Ranstead Streets, across from Two Liberty Place, is the smallest Wawa in Philly and the second-smallest of the more than 880 convenience markets in the chain. (The largest Wawa, at 11,500 square feet, is a mile east, on Chestnut Street.)
The store — which officially opens at 8 a.m. Friday with T-shirt giveaways, free coffee, and a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony — has several innovations, like a walk-up window, but is void of some of the Wawa standards, like tobacco products.
Here are five insights into Wawa’s new store gleaned during a preview tour Thursday:
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Wawa is not convenient enough” or “I really hate it when people politely hold the door open for me,” then fear no more, fellow Philadelphians. This Wawa is for you.
Through the Wawa app, customers can buy soups, sandwiches, and even items like chips and gum, and schedule a time to pick them up at the walk-up window on 16th Street, without ever entering the store.
“It’s for customers that want the Wawa product but don’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle that happens inside of our stores,” said Terri Micklin, director of construction for Wawa and project lead.
Unlike other Wawas, this one — which is only open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. — is much more “workforce-based” than residential, Micklin said. The walk-up window allows people with short lunch breaks or those commuting to make the most of their time, she said.
Lori Bruce, public relations manager for Wawa, said customers have no reason to be wary about using the Wawa app — or any form of payment — in light of the company’s recent data breach.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, as soon as the malware was discovered, they contained it," she said. “There’s no risk today from the malware ... so customers can feel confident.”
Bruce said it was “important to note” that Wawa has not seen any unauthorized use of customer data as a result of the breach. When asked about lawsuits filed by customers who claim they were impacted by the breach, Bruce said she could not comment on pending litigation.
Given that space is tight, the selection of bottled beverages and prepackaged items is much more limited than at other Wawa stores. The chain studied what Philly consumers buy the most at Wawa and stocked the shelves accordingly, Micklin said.
Turns out, Philly likes Doritos. Out of the 12 shelves of chips, four are occupied by Doritos.
When it comes to other Philly favorites, the store will be the first to make hoagies in house (turkey and Italian for now) and stock the to-go shelves with them for people on the run.
The store also has the first hot to-go case, which will have breakfast sandwiches in the morning and soups, meatballs, mac and cheese, and other Wawa favorites to grab and go in the afternoon.
And while you’ll see Wawa’s familiar touch-screen ordering kiosks, in this store, they face a wall and not the hoagie makers. All hoagie assemblers work in the back of house, where there’s also a dedicated salad-making station. Orders are picked up by customers at a window inside the store.
The wallpaper in the store, which is called “Philly Groove," was designed by Gaëtane & Co. Design. Look closely and you’ll see Boathouse Row rowers, Rocky, and, of course, the Wawa goose.
When it comes to the architectural structure of the building, which was erected in 1955 to house a bank, Micklin said she tried to honor its mid-century modern design.
In April, Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron said Wawa’s plans for the store “purged” the building of its identity. Micklin disagreed with that assessment, noting that the building was “not being held up by a lot” when Wawa moved in and that it required major renovations after years of neglect.
“I think we were able to honor the original design, still modernize it up to current construction standards, and still make it feel like your favorite Wawa,” she said Thursday, noting the exterior wall on Ranstead Street is the original brick.
The store is serving as a test nest, not only for new products — like an expanded tea selection — but also for environmental reforms that might spread across the chain, like bamboo coffee stirrers and compostable straws.
Employees at the store even have new uniforms, made of recycled plastic. And, as the city begins to move forward with a recently passed plastic-bag ban, customers can opt to purchase a reusable Wawa bag at the store for 99 cents.
If it’s seems like there are a lot of Wawas opening, there are.
According to Bruce, Wawa hit a record with 62 store openings last year across six states and Washington, D.C., and it’s on schedule to open up 61 more stores this year.
For those who claim Wawa may be oversaturating the market, Micklin said the company is just listening to their customers.
“For every naysayer, there are five more people asking, ‘Can you put one close to my home? Can you put one close to my work?’ ” she said. “Our goal is to meet the customers where they’re asking us to be.”
On Thursday, eager customers tried to enter the still-locked store and even took pictures of the new location as they walked by.
Bruce said part of Wawa’s long-term plan is learning how and where people want to access their stores. If successful, this tiny Wawa might be a blueprint for how the chain could serve urban centers and neighborhoods where space is at a premium, Bruce and Micklin said.
The store’s general manager, Chris Marvel, has been with the chain for 20 years, since the day after he graduated high school.