Wawa opened its largest store at 11,500 square feet last week in a tourist-laden area of Philadelphia. The art deco space with high, vaulted ceilings — emblems of its home inside the Public Ledger Building built in 1927 — features a living plant wall, large digital screens and free WiFi.
With murals highlighting significant achievements in the city’s history, the flagship Wawa “combines Philadelphia’s unique place in history and the site of many ‘Philly firsts’ with a unique, brand-new look and the very latest Wawa offerings,” said CEO Chris Gheysens, in a statement. In addition to items standard to the chain’s 800 stores, such as Wawa’s signature hoagies, this downtown location also sells salads, espresso drinks, cold brew and kombucha on tap, as well as pastries and bread baked in-house.
Customers entering the Wawa near the Liberty Bell and Independence National Historic Park will be greeted by a lounge with couches and cafe seating to take in views of nearby attractions. Visitors and locals alike can take home a piece of Wawa in the form of branded tees, water bottles and coffee mugs, according to Philadelphia Magazine.
Knowing it already holds cult-like loyalty, Wawa has transformed the in-store experience at its flagship store to encourage people to not just pop in but to stay a while. It might seem like a risky move when larger grocery stores are spinning off their own smaller, niche stores, such as Giant's Heirloom Market, which also recently opened in Philadelphia. But since the 1960s, Wawa ha been a convenience store with appealing perks like free coffee days, fee-free ATMs and a quick-service restaurant with seemingly infinite options. All it needed was comfortable seating for customers to eat their hoagie on site, perhaps picking up an extra gallon of iced tea on the way out.
With its headquarters situated 25 miles southwest of Philadelphia, Wawa's decision to plant its marquee store in Pennsylvania’s largest city is fitting. Wawa pioneered the hybrid foodservice model by selling fresh sandwiches and other meals alongside groceries, gasoline and classic c-store necessities. This flagship store takes that model to another level, feeling more like the first floor of a department store than a quick-stop shop. The large screens incorporate the customization Wawa fans love and promote social media interaction, Philadelphia Magazine reported when the store was first announced in April.
Not only does the location benefit from high pedestrian traffic and tourism on Independence Mall, nicknamed “America’s most historic square mile,” it also neighbors trendy businesses on every side, including Hotel Monaco, La Colombe Coffee (a local roaster with a national presence), Bourse Food Hall, and a seasonal beer garden. Companies looking for unique office space have also narrowed in on the old Center City area in recent years, keeping regular customers nearby year-round — not just during peak tourist season.
The upscale model has quickly become central to Wawa’s business model for the future. The 800-unit, privately owned chain — the 25th-largest, per Forbes, with $10 billion in annual revenue — opened a similar upscale version of its typical convenience fare in downtown D.C. last year, upsetting plenty of Wawa fanatics in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That store features indoor and outdoor seating, free bike pumps, selfie screens and nitro cold-brew coffee, according to The Washington Post.