After 17 years and perhaps 17 million cups of coffee, the popular Wawa convenience store at 20th and Locust streets in Center City will close tonight.

The store, situated in the rear of the ritzy Dorchester on Rittenhouse Square condominium tower, is the fifth of 10 Wawas in Center City to shut down in recent years, said Lori Bruce, a Wawa corporate spokeswoman.

And some Center City residents are not exactly entertained by the disappearing act.

One elderly Dorchester resident, shopping for doughnuts yesterday at the store, was among those saddened by the development.

"It's really the best, and I wish they wouldn't leave," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "It's convenient and cheap and a benefit for the aged and the poor."

"It makes me want to move," said Jordan Marks, who lives at 19th and Spruce. "This is what keeps me in the neighborhood. Forget Rittenhouse: Where's the Wawa?"

For its part, Wawa seems more than willing to forget Rittenhouse Square.

"We are a business built on evolution," Bruce said. "You have to change in order to remain [relevant] to the customers."

She declined to elaborate on the company's reasons for leaving.

Although the 20th and Locust store was stocked with fresh doughnuts and bagels yesterday, its shelves were almost bare. Packaged foods that remained included boxed mashed potatoes and microwavable chicken gravy.

The Wawa at Rittenhouse Square opened in 1991, after 7-Eleven vacated the property. It is the second Wawa in Center City to close in the last year, Bruce said, but she added that the closings are "not unique to Center City."

The venerable convenience-store chain based in Delaware County has opened six stores in Philadelphia in the last four years, with one relocated store under construction in the city, Bruce said.

Most of the sites being considered for construction would include gas stations, she said.

Employees from 20th and Locust will be transferred to nearby Wawas, and most will be able to choose their location, she said.

Patricia Yonekawa, general manager of the Dorchester, said many residents of the building are frequent Wawa customers and are sad to see it go.

"We are going to miss Wawa," said Yonekawa. "It's a great resource and a great part of the community."

Yonekawa said that some Dorchester residents had put together a petition asking that the Wawa remain open.

But Bruce said that embracing change is one of Wawa's core values.

"These decisions are tough," Bruce said. "Any time we close a store, it's emotional. You know that song, 'Breaking Up is Hard to Do'? It's like that."

Yonekawa said that Wawa owns the store space it occupies in the Dorchester. According to Wawa's Web site, the space is up for sale at a price of $2.1 million.

Some residents are excited by the prospect of a new convenience store moving in.

"[Wawa's] sandwiches are reasonable," Joss Tanner, a neighborhood resident, said of the prices. "But some of their stuff is so overpriced, I'm surprised they're still in business."

Joe Plymouth, who works for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, on 17th Street near Vine, and often buys his lunch at the Wawa that is closing, said he'd miss the store.

"I'm sad to see it go. It fits in well with the Rittenhouse Square area," said Plymouth, munching on a soft pretzel on a park bench in the square. "I expect they'll put in a 7-Eleven or something like that. As long as it's not Starbucks: There are way too many of them." *