Tonight, Wawa will close its Rittenhouse Square store in Center City Philadelphia. It marks the fifth closure of a Wawa in Philly's downtown since I started working here in 2005. There's another Wawa only a few blocks away in the Rittenhouse neighborhood, but I still mourn the loss that leaves us only 3 places that make good coffee as well as soup in the area bounded by the rivers and Market and South Streets. And one of them is in the congested mess that tis Columbus Boulevard.
While I can still pick up a coffee and a Sizzli in South Jersey on my way in, I do like the cozy corner Wawas in Center City. When I worked down here in the early 90s, there were 3-4 within walking distance for a coffee break or lunch run. Now it damn near takes a taxi to get to one and back in an hour.
It's the largest of the recent stores to close at almost 3900 square feet, but you can't put highly profitable gas pumps in The Dorchester, and thus the closure. One would assume that the rest of the mini-stores in the city are all doomed at this point.
I understand Wawa's position that the company is dynamic and has to change with market forces. Transportation costs make it less and less cost effective to send truck to the lower-volume stores on a daily basis. Philadelphia (and Chester and Camden) stores are also more likely to be a target of crime than the new mega Wawas going up with gas pumps in Cherry Hill, NJ and Williamsburg, VA and the rest of the suburban crossroads locations Wawa has favored in recent years.
The company's website shows prototype designs that require a minimum of to road frontages with a square lot no smaller than 365 feet on a side. They're also looking for traffic counts of over 25,000 cars per day. the minimum size for the store itself is 4,800 square feet, ranging up to a mammoth 7,400 square feet. You've got to be able to park 50-75 cars and accommodate 6-12 gas pumps.
That just won't happen in Center City. Maybe there is room for this kind of development in Northeast Philly, but for the most part the rest of the city doesn't have the site space and/or traffic count to make it happen. Sure there are places in West and North Philly that are available, but I don't see Wawa jumping into that market any time soon.
I'm a big fan of the company. I simply prefer that in its growth quest, the company remembers its roots a bit better. They grew up in the retail business competing with 7-11 and Cumberland Farms, beating them at their own game. I know the world has changed and easily-walked-to neighborhood stores cant bring in the profits that the drive up behemoths promise, but I miss the old Wawa a bit. And don't get me started on the "have to drive everywhere" model of suburban consumerism that drives today's retail outlets.
The signature Wawa scent of sandwich oil, coffee and newsprint. The green and beige terrazzo, stepping around piles of Sunday Inquirers or bags of rock salt. These are the things that addicted me to the brand as a teen and cause me to drive out of my way every day to go to the small Moorestown store.
But I know the Moorestown store is doomed like the old Brookhaven and Medford Lakes stores and that soon all the Wawas will be devoid of the reminders that they grew out of the Delaware County deli and sandwich shop tradition that I hold so dear. So while I acknowledge the inevitability of the future, let me mourn the past just for today.