After more than a year of anticipation that featured months of gridlock with a Delaware County township and pushback from residents and beer distributors, Wawa announced Thursday that it had gained approval to sell beer in one of its Pennsylvania stores.
But the region's beer-consuming loyal fans of the convenience store should not get too excited yet: The approval is solely for one Delaware County store.
Still, Wawa's foray into the beer market would mark the first time since 2003 that the Delaware County-based chain would be able to sell brews alongside its hoagies in the Keystone State. It had the ability to sell beer at its Spruce Street store near the University of Pennsylvania campus starting in 1986, but the chain lost that right after it was cited for sales to minors.
Customers at the Wawa on Naamans Creek Road in the Chadds Ford section of Concord Township will be allowed to carry two six-packs out at a time, or purchase one beer a day and drink it in the restaurant area.
With the approval from Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board, Wawa now must begin renovations to the store's interior before it can begin selling beer. The company anticipates a January completion date, Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said.
To comply with state requirements, Wawa would have to create a separate restaurant space within its store, measuring at least 400 square feet - with a separate entrance, a separate cash register, and seating for 30 people - where beer can be served.
Bruce said Wawa views the announcement as "a single-store product expansion" with "no specific plans to expand this further."
"As we do with all additions and innovations we will monitor its success and continue to assess its potential," she said.
Still, if successful, the implications of selling beer at one of the region's most popular convenience stores has the potential to ripple far and wide: With scores of locations across the state, Wawa's entry into the beer market could be a game-changer for a chain already entrenched as a one-stop shopping destination at any hour, industry stakeholders have said.
Already, more than 250 supermarkets, convenience stores, and delis across Pennsylvania have been disrupting a booze industry long dominated by laws that many have called archaic.
Before, shoppers had few options: Buy in bulk from a beer distributor or purchase no more than two six-packs from a restaurant or tavern.
But vendors such as Wawa elbowed their way into beer sales amid growing efforts statewide to revise liquor laws - some in place since 1933 - by adding restaurant facilities.
For months, it seemed, Wawa faced a steep challenge in getting the addition approved: Local beer distributors and residents protested at Concord Township meetings, and for months, Wawa and the township's supervisors were in a standoff, at odds over nearly two dozen restrictions imposed by the township. The stalemate was resolved in February.
Then, amid Wawa's wait for approval from the state, Gov. Wolf signed a bill during the summer making it easier for consumers to buy beer, wine, and liquor in Pennsylvania. The Liquor Control Board granted the ability for state residents to purchase beer at select gas stations across the state.
Wawa has more than 600 locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida - already selling beer in Virginia and Florida.