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New Wawa, the biggest yet, opens to cheers in Philadelphia’s Center City

The first customers arrived before 6 a.m., more than two hours before opening time.

The new Wawa has 11,500 square feet of space.
The new Wawa has 11,500 square feet of space.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

It was the most sublime of times, it was the most ridiculous of times.

The opening of Wawa’s new flagship store in Center City Philadelphia Friday was peak Philly, with a parade of mascots, a declaration by Thomas Jefferson, and hundreds of excited Wawa fans who began lining up at the store more than two hours before the doors opened.

And all of the convenience-store pageantry was set to live background music provided by — who else — the Eagles Pep Band.

We’ll give you one guess whether they played the theme from Rocky.

A group of friends from Drexel University were first in line at the store in the old Public Ledger Building at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, arriving at 5:52 a.m.

Nancy Huynh, 18, a Drexel freshman from Massachusetts, said they don’t have anything like Wawa where she’s from and she never expected that waiting in line for a convenience store opening was something she’d do when she moved to Philly.

“But I am getting assimilated,” she said. “And this is the bougiest Wawa ever."

Craig Harris, 62, was next in line, arriving at 5:55 p.m.

“I love the free samples and how Wawa is very community-minded,” he said.

By 7:30 a.m., with a half hour to go before opening, the line wrapped around the corner and numbered at least 75 deep.

By 10 minutes before opening, hundreds of people had flooded the line. Curious tourists visiting nearby Independence Hall looked on in amazement when informed that the line was, indeed, for the opening of a convenience store.

Aunt Terri, a local Internet celebrity with 30,000 Facebook followers known for channeling her inner Philly spirit, entertained the crowd and posed for selfies with fans as they waited in line.

The 11,500-square-foot Wawa, located across from Independence Hall, is the largest in the convenience-store chain.

Built in just 131 days, the new “flagship store” is a departure from the brightly lit, box-shape designs of past Wawas. At a preview event Wednesday, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens described the new store as testing playground for both design and 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.”

When the store finally opened at 8 a.m., dozens of Wawa staff members formed a high-five line and cheered for customers who poured in the door for four straight minutes without stopping.

Mikey Becht, 18, who wore his best Marvel pajama pants — in fleece — to the opening, had a dream of being the first customer to order a gobbler sandwich at the new store. By 8:08 a.m., he’d done it.

Move over Captain America, there’s a new superhero in town.

Other customers stocked up on Wawa merchandise, posed for photos inside the store, sampled Wawa delicacies handed out by store staff, and marveled at the high-tech fixtures in the shiny new bathrooms.

While Wawa cultists were excited by the opening, some motorists in Center Center were hitting the horns after police closed off two blocks of Chestnut for a parade, causing traffic backups in the area.

The parade featured an eclectic mix of colonial reenactors, Fire Department vehicles, and modern-day mascots, including the Eagles' Swoop, Wawa’s own Wally Goose, and the rarely seen, but endearingly adorable, Wawa Shorti hoagie mascot.

Once inside the store, a news conference was brought to order by a flute and snare drum player in colonial garb who played the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Then, none other than Founding Father Thomas Jefferson took the podium to declare the store open, given his good track record with declarations.

“This couldn’t be a more perfect place to bring Wawa’s values and our nation’s founding values together,” he said. “I hereby declare this as Wawa Values day and encourage everyone to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this beautiful new Wawa store.”

The store will remain open 24/7 and will serve free coffee to all customers through the weekend.

Staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.