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Largest Wawa ever opens in D.C., but chain still has big plans for Philly

The other top four largest Wawa stores are still in the greater Philly area.

Officials including Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens, center, and U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, pictured to the right of Gheysens, celebrate the grand opening of Wawa’s D.C. location Thursday.
Officials including Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens, center, and U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, pictured to the right of Gheysens, celebrate the grand opening of Wawa’s D.C. location Thursday.Read moreCourtesy of Sean Tobin

A string trio played in front of the juice-and-yogurt case and hungry customers waited in a line that stretched around the block Thursday morning at the grand opening of Wawa's first location in Washington, D.C.

"We are Wawa!" shouted the crowd of people who had been waiting in line at least 90 minutes before the store's 8 a.m. opening.

At 9,200 square feet, the D.C. store is the largest ever for the Delaware County-based chain.

It's OK, really. We're doing our best not to take it personally here in Philly. Obviously, Wawa had to build a store large enough to accommodate all those D.C. egos. Will people in Washington even hold the door open for each other for uncomfortably long periods of time just to be polite, as is the long-standing, bipartisan tradition in the greater Philly area?

We think not.

Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said the chain's choice to put its "largest store — for now" in D.C. was in no way an affront to the Philadelphia region.

"It wasn't a matter of choosing one or the other," she said. "It happens to be the largest based on the available space."

The "state-of-art," "one-of-a-kind," "restaurant-style" location at 1111 19th St. NW in Washington's central business district has floor-to-ceiling windows, interior and exterior seating, nitro cold brew coffee, built-to-order salads, free air for bicyclists, large and interactive screens featuring social media, and free Wifi.

What it doesn't have: Gas pumps or beer. Whew!

U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.) of Northeast Philly held the ribbon as it was cut at Thursday's grand opening. Brianna Kinsey, Miss D.C. 2017, sang the National Anthem. The first 100 customers in the door got prizes that included sizzlis or hoagies for a month, and the store is serving free coffee to all customers through the weekend. Wawa is also donating $5,000 in hoagie sales and giving a $10,000 grant to the Capital Area Food Bank.

King of Prussia native Molly Cooke, 21, who is attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., got in line for the grand opening at 7:15 a.m. and was among the first 100 people through the door. By 8 a.m. the line went "all the way around the block" and there were a lot of "E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!" chants from the crowd, she said.

"People come out for Wawa like they do for a sports game," Cooke said. "After the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers, it's the next biggest Philly sport."

According to Cooke and other reports from social media, workers from a nearby Dunkin' Donuts tried to give out hot chocolate and freebies to those waiting in line, but the Wawa faithful would not take it.

"They said, 'We just want you to be warm. We're going to go to Wawa too,' but most everybody said 'No! We want to suffer like Carson Wentz!'" Cooke said. "There were a couple people who defected and they got hyper judged. If you took it you were not a true believer."

Bruce said the chain has "plenty of Wawa excitement planned for our hometown of Philadelphia over the next year," including opening three new Center City locations in the first of half of 2018: at 22nd and South Streets, 13th and Chestnut Streets, and 12th and Market Streets.

The store's location at Second and South Streets in Queen Village also reopens this Friday, after a remodel that nearly doubled the branch's size from 3,381 square feet to 5,645 square feet.

Wawa is also eyeing a possible location in the Public Ledger building at Sixth and Chestnut Streets near Independence Hall. Bruce said the location is under contract but is still going through the permitting process. Documents posted to the website of the Philadelphia Historical Commission recently show that Wawa's lease at the building covers more than 7,600 square feet, which would make it the largest location within Philadelphia city limits.

"[W]e are projecting the offering at this location will be very similar to our D.C. store in terms of all of the latest food service offers, from built-to-order salads to nitro cold brew," Bruce said. "While it is early in the process, what we can say is that the interior and exterior design and features would be based on the historical nature of the site."

Will the touch screens have interactive quills? Will the breakfast sandwiches be shaped like little Liberty Bells? The suspense is killing we the people!

For now, to our fellow Americans in D.C., we say enjoy the Philadelphia freedom that comes with made-to-order sandwiches and beverages. And we hope that Wawa shortis will always serve as a reminder to never forget the little guy.

After the D.C. location, the four next-largest Wawas are all in the greater Philadelphia region and similar in size. Here are the five largest stores in the Wawa family, based on square footage:

  1. 1111 19th St. NW, Washington, D.C. (a non-fuel store): 9,200 square feet

  2. 721 Naamans Creek Road, Chadds Ford (a fuel store with seating and Wawa's only location in Pennsylvania that sells beer): More than 7,500 square feet

  3. 4262 Black Horse Pike, Mays Landing (a fuel store): More than 7,500 square feet

  4. 5 Matthews Road, Malvern (a fuel store): More than 7,500 square feet

  5. 1900 Market St., Philadelphia (a non-fuel store): More than 7,000 square feet