Is Philly Still a Wawa Town?

7-11 has far more stores. Are they taking over our city… and our hearts?


A confession: One small matter that has kept me from feeling like a complete and true Philadelphian is that I have no loyalty — none — to Wawa.

This is not entirely my fault. When I moved to the city in 2008, it was impossible to avoid the chain’s catchy commercials urging viewers to “start your day on a roll/with a Wawa breakfast hoagie.” The tune was relentlessly cheery, relentlessly overplayed and simply relentless. I think I spent November of that year singing the jingle to myself over and over again. Wawa tried to capture my mind, and it certainly did.

It was just never around to capture my heart.

This is a matter of age and geography. I’m told Wawas once roamed Center City like buffalo did the Great Plains, in thunderous herds of coffee-guzzling Eagles fans who needed to grab a good, cheap, fresh sandwich on the go.

It always seemed the stuff of myth to me. I live near Fitler Square, and have spent most of my career in Philly working in Center City west of Broad Street. Whenever I’ve needed or might’ve desired a Wawa experience — for a quart of milk at 11 at night, say, or to grab caffeine in whichever form seemed most appropriate for its time of day — Wawa literally hasn’t been there for me.

That’s Wawa’s choice. As Don Steinberg wrote in Philly Mag nearly three years ago, “Wawa has largely forsaken Center City,” leaving urban spots for larger tracts of land with landscaping and the ability to sell gasoline. Maybe Wawa was once a city kid, but by the time I’d arrived in town, it had grown up, started commuting, and moved to the suburbs.

It was only when a 7-11 went up in recent months at 22nd and Market, though, that the thought occurred to me that maybe Wawa’s Philadelphia myth was even more mythical that I first suspected. That maybe 7-11 — a national chain, and thus unlovable — was really the preferred place to get the late-night sodas and junk food.

Maybe 7-11 was the secret king of Philly.

So I made some phone calls, put out some contacts. And what I found out was this:

7-11 has 72 stores in the city of Philadelphia — and it is growing: Seven new stores in the last year in the city. Wawa, meanwhile, merely has “more than 40 stores” inside city limits — barely more than half its competitors — with two more under construction. If you’re looking for a convenience store, it turns out, 7-11 is almost certainly more convenient, a late-night way station for cops, a daytime destination for lottery ticket buyers and Slurpee lovers of all ages.

“I can tell you for the past several years, 7-11 has been on an accelerated growth plan. Philadelphia is one of those areas,” said Margaret Chabris, a spokeswoman for the company. “We’ve got a respectful operation there.”

Here, I believed, was the information that would help me shatter generations of myth-making.

Wawa’s Lori Bruce, though, made the case that Wawa’s connection to Philly transcends mere numbers. “Philadelphia,” she said. “is Wawa’s hometown.”

In fact, she laid it on a bit thick. “We believe that we all have a role in making the world a better place by not only by filling customer orders — but by fulfilling the lives that we touch. Because happy, fulfilled and connected people, make happier and stronger communities,” she said in an email to me. “We believe we are the trusted, 24/7 daily sanctuary — town square and heart of our neighborhoods. We play a role in life’s key moments — making good times better, and bad times more bearable.”

Maybe. But sometimes I don’t need to find solace and sanctuary in an alienated world. Sometimes I just need to buy a pint of Chunky Monkey.

Still, when I started canvassing friends and acquaintances which convenience store they used most often, the choice was overwhelmingly Wawa. “I’ll drive out of my way to hit up Wawa,” said one young lady. “Obviously,” sneered someone else. It was clear: The raw numbers might tell one story, but Philly’s self-identity, it seemed, demanded another.

Maybe that’s OK. 7-11, as far as I know, has never helped bring The Roots home to perform on the Parkway for Fourth of July — that’s all Wawa. And the idea of a 7-11 versus Sheetz rivalry for the heart of Pennsylvania seems a little depressing.

Of course,there still isn’t a Wawa all that close to where I live. I guess I’ll have to make due with mere convenience — even if that means missing a little magic in my life.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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  • DTurner

    There’s no contest here, even the newest 7-11s are awful when compared to the scummiest old Wawa. 7-11 is a convenience store that instills little loyalty.

  • phillysportsfan

    wawa is overrated. i used to buy cigarettes there because they had the lowest price, but since i quit about 8 years ago, i rarely step foot in there. and i don’t like there gasoline either. somehow a tankful doesn’t go as far as other brands. plus there’s about 8 zillion other stores in the area that sell a better hoagie.

    • DP

      Gasoline is a commodity good. It’s the same exact stuff coming out of the pump at WAWA as it is at Sunoco, Hess or any other gas station. Same. Exact. Stuff.

      • phillysportsfan

        look, some people believe in god. i believe wawa gasoline is deficient. same thing.

        • pt

          yes, both exhibit the power of good marketing over the human mind.

  • NateFried

    There real question and concern is the status of greater center city wawas. Sure… anything outside of greater center city, you can just drive to. Just cause 7-11 is closer doesn’t mean you won’t go to a wawa. Greater center city has only four wawas (jefferson, south st, UPENN, and Comcast center). That’s where the REAL hole is when it comes to wawa proximity. They have closed so many throughout the ten years I have lived here.

    • 20th and Hamilton, 17th & Arch, 2nd & South, 9th & Walnut, 10th & arch in Center City… not whatever neighborhood you decided to make up called “greater center city” plus there’s two in university city

      • NateFried

        alright… so i missed 20th and hamilton and the 10th and arch… still not as many as it used to be. And greater center city what can be considered the center core of Philadelphia bounded by the rivers and girard and tasker. I would still love to see more wawas over 7-11s downtown. …

        • DTurner

          Agreed, Wawa would wipe the floor with 7-11. The good news is that they are at least upgrading the current locations, so maybe there is some hope for a future expansion?

  • Northeaster

    Still mad at Wawa for abandoning the city when they were making money there. Made no sense.

    • DTurner

      I’m thinking that was a poor management decision that is being rectified as we speak. There seems to be a general trend of renovation at the older stores, so we might see some more pop up soon.

  • matthew brandley

    When I go into a wawa I know exactly what I will get when I purchase a sode from the fountain. Try that at 7 11. The sales staff behind the counter speaks english. Try that at a 7 11 when you go up to pay and they are talking in there native toungue. Ticks me off!. When I want a sandwich I want it fresh not premade like 7 11.

  • Andypandy

    What kind of writer are you? Do you even know the facts? Have you seen the new Wawa’s popping up all over the city? I know what I get when I go to Wawa – friendly faces and a damn good hoagie. What do I get at a 7-11? Stereotypes. I can’t understand what they even say and their food looks gross. The only thing I can even remotely stomach there is the slurpees and I rather go to Rita’s (or Wawa, they have a banging cola slushie). Why don’t you go do some real journalism and research all the murders in this city.

  • Pappy

    I think philly residents do feel tied to WAWA, I moved here 10 years ago, I find 7-11 over priced and under stocked. At WAWAs I find what I am looking for and do not pay an arm and a leg. Plus the prepared food are prepared fresh!

  • coxey

    Still the best coffee anywhere, and their gas is cheaper and better then other.

    • Bob

      Their gas comes from the same place as whatever is across the street. They’re an independent buyer, they don’t own or contract with a refinery. Their gas isn’t better or worse than BP or Sunoco, it IS BP or Sunoco.

  • Denise Rambo

    I spend my money at whoever’s got 1 Liter bottles of Diet Pepsi on sale 2 for $3. It seems to rotate. Heck … I’ll even go to a Turkey Hill or Cumberland Farms if I can get a deal.

  • mollie

    key here… you moved here in 2008. You clearly don’t get Philly. Enjoy your 7-11 while the real Philly people know Wawa and 7-11 can’t even be compared!

  • Bob

    Wawa sold out years ago, crappy ingredients for their store brand, taking up shelf space for said crappy store brand, and moving to the sheetz gas model. But they’re not losing to 7-11. People, like me, who gave up on wawa did so because it was becoming more like 7-11. I go to Starbucks and Indy coffee shops now. I get my hoagies from local shops. For stuff like Red Bull, gum, protein drinks/bars, and snacks I’m as likely to go to 7-11, CVS, or Giant as anything else. Ironically, I mainly just stop there for gas.

  • Julia

    I moved away from Philly a couple of months ago and miss Wawa so much! There is absolutely no comparison to 7-11. Wawa is the best hands down.

  • MC

    Wawa did not abandon the city! In fact, have you seen the remodeled Wawa on 17th & Arch and 9th & Walnut?! They’re awesome and the food is head and shoulders above that of a 7-11. I literally fear for my health and safety when eating anything from that dirty convenience store.

    • When I moved here in the early 1980s, there were far more than four Wawas within the confines of Center City proper – they were almost as ubiquitous as 7-Elevens are now. In fact, I type this reply across the street from a former Wawa that became an indie C-store after the chain closed it; a Chipotle Mexican Grill now occupies that corner and the C-store is in the back.

      You are absolutely correct that the food at Wawa is head and shoulders above that of a 7-Eleven. That’s why those of us who remember when Wawas were thick on the ground in Center City wail and moan so much. The stores that remain are brighter and better than the ones that departed, but that’s cold comfort when there were once so many more of them.

  • connied

    for me, the difference is two things: safety and cleanliness. In a 7-11, i don’t feel safe even in their parking lots: they are usually dark, littered, have cracked and broken asphalt; and always, the obligatory person out front begging for change when you walk in AND when you walk out. I feel just as unsafe inside the store with owners and clerks who seem very disinterested in their customers, or the goings on outside their plate glass windows. And, then, whenever i DO stop in my local 7-11 for coffee, i have to wipe down the coffee counter every single time because of the sugar, milk and coffee drips, and grounds scattered across the counter. Even their floors are dirty.
    When i go to a wawa, their parking lots are clean, bright, and litter-free. No one hangs outside begging for change. The managers/workers are friendly and greet you when you walk in the store. and i NEVER have to clean the coffee stations.
    WaWa all the way!

    • thedonger48

      That’s the major difference between a franchise and mainly privately owned. The franchisee (7 Eleven) is responsible for the upkeep of the property whereas privately owned (Wawa) takes up the same responsibility.

    • Alexis Smith

      I’m guessing we go to different Wawa’s re: panhandlers

  • Laura

    I love Wawa and wish there were more in the city!

  • SB

    My impression of 7-11 is that thet are dirtier and less friendly than WAWA. I would now never go into a 7-11 store.

  • They_Call_Me_Bruce

    How much did 7 Eleven pay you to write this? Wawa has really lost its way with their push towards fast food and gas, but they are still leaps and bounds better than 7 Eleven. The only people who go to 7 Eleven are there to rob it.

  • KellyBelly

    Hey Joel, get out of Center City once in a while. Philly is a big city and the metropolitan area is huge. There are tons of Wawa in the Northeast and Northwest Philly, and the inner burbs.

  • Cap’t Sterno

    I prefer Wawa for cleanliness, professional attitude of store staff and that they employ people from the neighborhood they serve. It is our go to spot when we are on the road and need a little something, coffee or a shorty or gas. I’m sorry for folks who have to use the lesser quality entity.

  • Ed Ruppenstein

    i get back to philly twice a year and almost survive on hoagies from 17th and arch. stuart is the KING

  • Boo-urns

    Wawa is great for general convenience items (and gas!), but unless it’s 2am and nowhere else is open the hoagies are *terrible*.

    It wasn’t always this way, but as they grow to behemoth proportions their quality keeps sliding downward…

  • mollie

    Enough said!! Everyone who LOVES Wawa should up vote this!