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Inside the largest Wawa in the history of the universe, opening near Independence Hall Friday

To prepare you for what will surely be a Wawa sensory overload, here are the 12 gifts of Wawa’s new flagship store.

Wawa held a preview Wednesday for its giant new store at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, which opens Friday.
Wawa held a preview Wednesday for its giant new store at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, which opens Friday.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

History has again been made at Sixth and Chestnut Streets in Center City — but this time, history came packing a side of mac and cheese, and a toasted hoagie.

Sorry about your timing, Ben Franklin.

The largest Wawa ever — 11,500 square feet — opened its doors across from Independence Hall for a sneak preview Wednesday, ahead of the Friday grand opening.

Built in just 131 days, the new “flagship store” is a complete departure from the brightly lit, box-shape designs of past Wawas.

Adrian Cortes, manager of architectural design for Wawa Inc., said he went for an Art Deco and coffeehouse feel, with gray tones, bricks, and soft lights. The original ceilings, 22 feet above the floor, were preserved, and the trademark geese are tastefully hidden in the ironwork.

Wawa chief executive officer Chris Gheysens said design is at the forefront of Wawa’s future. He sees the new store as a testing playground — not only for interior design, but also for products.

“For us, this is like Wawa heaven," Gheysens said. “While people in Philadelphia are tough on us, appropriately, they also give us latitude to do a little more and explore, because they see us as more than a convenience store.”

That Wawa has placed its flagship next to the building where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is a declaration by the rapidly growing company that it still embraces its Philly-area constitution.

“It’s our hometown, our roots are here,” Gheysens said. “And we know if you’re going to show up in the historic district, you better bring your best.”

From in-store murals by the Mural Arts Philadelphia to on-tap beverages and specialty drinks like the molten lava “Liberty Latte," there are sights, sounds, and tastes at this location that can’t be found at any other Wawa in the known universe. We’re not sure what Wawa is up to in the multiverse.

The store is housed inside the Public Ledger Building, and surpasses the Washington location that had been the largest Wawa by 2,300 square feet.

The new store is the fifth to open in Center City this year and it’s the fifth Wawa store opening just this week, with the others taking place Thursday in Florida and New Jersey.

Though it still feels familiar enough that you’ll probably see someone shopping in Eagles slippers, the new store is so classy that the guys who use the top of Wawa trash cans as lunch tables might have to rethink their decisions, especially since this store has tables and chairs.

Wawa, a dairy company that opened its first store in Delaware County in 1964, has now expanded to 828 locations across six states and D.C, but people in Philly and the burbs still vehemently claim the chain as their own.

» PHOTOS: New uses for old Wawas

Sure, Florida may have Wawas now, but can Florida Man ever really appreciate them? We’re not so sure. What we do know is that nobody around Philly has ever left an alligator in their Wawa, like someone in the Sunshine State did this June.

So, while there may be other Wawas, look at this new flagship store as an early holiday gift from Wawa for good behavior, Philly. Just try and keep it alligator-free.

Doors to the new store open at 8 a.m. Friday and the first 200 customers will receive “special giveaways.” At 8:45 a.m. a “mini procession” of “history makers” and mascots will parade to the store, where a Thomas Jefferson impersonator will make a “Wawa declaration” at 9 a.m.

When in the course of human events has that happened before?

Following a performance of the national anthem by the Philadelphia Fife and Drum Corps, city officials, including Mayor Kenney, will share some words of Wawa wisdom before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And the store will offer free coffee — in any size ― all weekend long.

To prepare you for what will surely be a Wawa sensory overload, here are the 12 gifts of Wawa’s new flagship store to keep an eye out for on your first visit:

  1. One living wall of greenery behind the counters.

  2. Two murals of “Philly Firsts," which are also printed on coffee cups unique to the store. One of the mural artists, Willis Humphrey, died two weeks ago, and his family from Texas was in the store for his mural unveiling Wednesday. “It’s the first of his dedications that I’ve seen; that’s why I wanted to come,” said Humphrey’s mother, Gloria. “It’s lovely.”

  3. Three seating areas, including a row of comfy couches that look out on Chestnut.

  4. Four stalls in the ladies' room, which is double the capacity of a typical Wawa.

  5. Five (hundred and twenty-eight) Coca-Cola bottles as part of a wall of light above the soda machines. that changes colors

  6. Sixth Street, where you should stop when walking along Chestnut to enter the store.

  7. Seven on-tap specialty beverages, including nitro green mint tea, kombucha, and a carbonated drink called “Swizzle,” which was described as a “farmer’s Gatorade.”

  8. Eight special reserve coffee blends (most Wawas only carry one).

  9. At least nine different Wawa delicacies from the preview event, including bacon topped mac and cheese, and gobbler sandwich fillings in glass tumblers.

  10. Ten different types of Wawa merchandise for sale, including Wally Goose stuffed animals, shirts, and umbrellas. 

  11. At 11 a.m. Friday, story-telling sessions by Historic Philadelphia. Topics include the former cow pastures of Franklin Square and the history of the hoagie.

  12. Twelve-packs of beer — or beer in any form — are still absent from the shelves at this and all Philly Wawas, so don’t get your hopes up.