On any given day, Wawa stores across the Philadelphia region are jam-packed. In the morning, people come for the coffee and Sizzli breakfast sandwiches. At lunch and dinner times, folks flock there for hoagies, soup, mac and cheese, or one of the many other offerings on the ubiquitous touch screens.
But, as much as Philadelphians love the local chain, they don't always love the idea of the store moving into their neighborhood. Especially if the store is what some have coined a "Super Wawa." Often open 24 hours, these stores come with upscale facades, gas pumps with canopies, and expanded parking lots. They have been popping up across the region over the last two decades.
A Wawa store with gas pumps may be coming to Wayne, and preliminary plans already are receiving pushback. Neighbors say they are concerned about noise, light, traffic congestion, and pedestrian safety. An existing Wawa, which officials say has been remodeled in recent years, is located about a half-mile from the proposed store.
Over the last few years, there have been fierce fights over Wawa plans in Voorhees, Doylestown, Hatboro, Abington, Upper Gwynedd, and Brick, N.J. On Fayette Street in Conshohocken, a battle over a Super Wawa has been going on since 2010.
At the same time, the homegrown giant continues to expand, adding dozens of locations annually. In six states and Washington, D.C, Wawa operates more than 800 stores — almost 600 of which have gas. An 11,000-square-foot store, the company's largest yet, is set to open at Sixth and Chestnut Streets later this year.
The $10-billion, Delaware County-based company maintains a cult-like following. On "Wawa Day," customers drink more than 2 million cups of free coffee. On social media, they profess their love for Wawa, a passion that has fueled a rivalry with fans of Sheetz, the convenience store that rules in western Pennsylvania (the feud will be the subject of a documentary, Sheetz vs. Wawa).
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"Overall, we find that communities are very excited about our new stores," Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said, "and we work hard to ensure that every new store brings a sense of community and is something our associates and customers are all proud to call 'their Wawa.' "
In Wayne, Gary and Peter Karakelian are looking to build a 4,500-square-foot store with 12 gas pumps near the intersection of Lancaster and Aberdeen Avenues. The Wawa would sit on two lots they own, a tract now occupied by smaller Sunoco and BP gas stations.
"We are concerned about a 24-hour operation right behind a whole neighborhood," said Radnor Township commissioner Luke Clark. "I am concerned about the traffic that a convenience store is going to drive."
Some residents are in favor of the project, telling the commissioner they'd love to be able to walk to Wawa and noting that the chain has cheap gas prices, Clark said. But those proponents are in the minority, he added.
"This is now taking a neighborhood and disrupting it to the point where it's going to become unlivable," Wayne resident Chris Beers said at a July Radnor Board of Commissioners meeting dedicated to the Wawa proposal. "We're going to fight you on it."
Charmaine McManus, who lives behind the possible Wawa site, said that three of her children walk to their jobs at the Five Below on the other side of Lancaster Avenue.
"I'm concerned about them crossing Lancaster now because of the traffic," she said. "They're afraid to cross the street. … I can't even imagine a Wawa."
Another sticking point for critics? The store would sit across from St. Katharine of Siena, a Catholic parish with a grade school.
"We as a community are, shall we say, rallying around this," said Monsignor Hans Brouwers, "because it's just not going to work."
Brouwers, St. Katharine's pastor, and school principal Bud Tosti said they share residents' concerns. Thirty or more children walk or bike to the school, they said, and those students already have to traverse a busy section of Lancaster Avenue lined with restaurants and stores on the edge of downtown Wayne.
During school drop-off and pickup, the surrounding streets are jammed with buses and cars, Tosti said. When weddings or funerals let out at the church, a police officer has to come to direct traffic, Brouwers said.
"Adding the [traffic] flow of a busy place like Wawa won't make things easier," Tosti said. "It'll be congested without question, and with that brings irate drivers, impatient drivers, just bad driving."
The Karakelians and their attorney, Nick Caniglia, stressed that this Wawa would have a "smaller footprint" than other Wawa gas stations. Caniglia said his clients hoped to address concerns in the land-development application.
"We know this is a process. There's going to be give and take," Caniglia said. "My clients are reasonable people. They like to do things right."
"In general, it is always [Wawa's] goal to work with local officials, neighbors, and community members to ensure we're meeting their needs and address any concerns of the community, including meeting with residents," said Bruce, the Wawa spokeswoman. "Improvements we make when building a new store include landscaping and adding trees to create natural barriers that reduce light and absorb noise."
The Karakelian father and son also own the Wawa at Lancaster Avenue and Banbury Way, 0.6 miles from the proposed store. That store would remain open, Caniglia said.
"As we've grown and added new stores over the years, customer feedback has shown us the need to open stores even closer to each other in order to provide the level of convenience and experience our customers want," Bruce said.
The debates in the Delaware County community mirror those happening on a smaller scale in Glenside, Montgomery County. This spring, Cheltenham Township Commissioner Drew Sharkey shared a letter to residents. Developers had informed the township that they wanted to build a Wawa with gas pumps on the site of a former Lukoil station on the 200 block of Easton Road, within a mile of an existing Wawa. The letter led to debate on social media, Sharkey said.
"The closer you were, the more concern there was," Sharkey said. "The farther you were, the more support there was."
There hadn't even been an official applicationt, Sharkey said. Months later, there still isn't one, nor have there been any public meetings, he said. The developers, Goodman Properties, could not be reached for comment.
In Wayne, Wawa submitted the land-development application this week, Clark said, and is set to go before the planning commission on Oct. 12. Another public meeting of the commissioners' development subcommittee will be held in September. If plans are approved, the Wawa could open by 2020, Clark said.
With a Wawa a little more than a half-mile away — and another within two miles — would this Wawa be one too many?
Said Caniglia: "I hope it would mean the town is doing well."