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In-Store Experience: The Largest Wawa

This location in Philadelphia shows off why its fans/customers love the expanding convenience chain so much.

Wawa, a privately held and family-owned convenience store and gas station chain, has a rich history and origins in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. 

The retailer has a cult-like following, similar to how Wisconsinites feel about convenience store chain Kwik Trip. The love Wawa’s loyal customers and fanbase have for the retailer, and particularly its popular prepared hoagies, even inspired a viral clip from a 2021 “Saturday Night Live” commercial advertisement parody of HBO limited series “Mare of Easttown.” 

The first Wawa Food Market opened in 1964 in Pennsylvania as an outlet for dairy products, but the name Wawa Inc. dates to 1803, when the company began as an iron foundry in New Jersey. 

Today, the company has more than 1,000 U.S. locations (and New Jersey has the most). Its footprint is spread along the East Coast, but in 2024 Wawa is opening more than 70 stores, including its first in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.

In May, while the Path to Purchase Institute was in Philadelphia for its Future Forward event, we paid a visit to not just Wawa, but the largest Wawa that exists. At approximately 11,500 square feet, the flagship store is located at 6th and Chestnut Street in the Center City neighborhood. It opened in late 2018 within a charming historical building. 

The brightly lit interior features a combination of old Art Deco and warm, modern architectural design elements with high ceilings, tall windows and unique light installations. It’s spacious and by no means overcrowded or cluttered. 

The space almost seems split in two halves. One side is dedicated to its convenience store offerings and features coolers and freezers, a large fresh food selection, a self-serve “ice cold drinks” section, registers and a few aisles clearly identifying snacks, candy, grocery items and more. Some in-aisle merchandising space appears illuminated, shining light onto products on shelves.

In this area, multiple digital screens looped a photo compilation of its customers derived from photos posted on social media using #Wawa. One slide invited shoppers to use the hashtag to be featured on the screens. 

Wawa is growing its use of digital screens in stores (and at the pump at select gas stations) through its recently launched retailer media network Goose Media Network. While brand advertisements weren’t playing during our visit to this location, the retailer has said it is using screens to promote new products, promotions and the brand’s overall messaging at more locations.

The other half of the store is more like a cafe, restaurant and bakery combination, primarily dedicated to its freshly made offerings. This side includes seating areas, a food and beverage ordering counter for its iconic hoagies and other fresh offerings, a bakery counter, a “made-for-you food & beverage” kiosk with self-serve screens, small sporadic c-store racks for snacks, and another checkout counter with a couple of self-checkout spots.

Throughout the store, but primarily in the convenience side, brand activity includes account-specific cooler and freezer clings, floorstands, corrugated shelf bins, signage on racks and baskets, and other secondary merchandising space.

Another endearing element of the store is sporadic odes to Philadelphia and Wawa’s history, such as colorful murals as well as permanent signage on the walls like something you’d see at a museum. It pays specific homage to landmarks such as City Hall and the William Penn statue, and the Union Fire Company founded in 1736.

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