City

This Is Not a Drill: It Looks Like Wawa’s Going to Sell Beer in Philly

The company won a $186,000 auction for a liquor license, which means, at least at one store, you may be able to rinse down the meat sweats from your Italian Shorti with a cold one.


wawa beer

Photo by David Murrell.

There are certain things that were put on this earth to be consumed together: chopped steak and Cheez Whiz, the shot/beer combo of a Citywide Special. But sometimes the universes conspires to make a would-be perfect combo unattainable, which is precisely what the case has been with Wawa hoagies and beer — handcuffed, as it were, by Pennsylvania’s arcane liquor laws. Unless you got your order to-go and snagged a cold brew upon arriving at home (which would be cheating), if you wanted to pair your Shorti with a Yuengling, you were mostly out of luck.

That’s going to be changing soon, because in March, Wawa threw down some serious cash in a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board auction for the right to sell alcohol at a location in Philadelphia. Though Wawa does currently sell booze at some of its out-of-state stores, this potential Philly location will be the first of its kind in the city, and only the second in all of Pennsylvania (Wawa also just bid on a Delco liquor license, and there’s a location in Chadds Ford that has been able to supply the holy grail beer/hoagie combination since 2017.)

It’s no small matter for a company to enter the alcohol market here. The Liquor Control Board, which has been around since 1933, has limited the number of liquor licenses based on a quota system pegged to population ever since 1939. (Those were the glory days, that period from ’33 to ’39, at least for drinking. Less so for the whole Great Depression thing.) The upshot of the quota system is that it’s damn hard to get a liquor license in Philly, especially, where demand is high.

That’s where the auction system comes in. Since 2016, the PLCB has made available expired restaurant liquor licenses, which can then be bid upon — often at exorbitant prices. Wawa’s final bid of $186,357 is actually a steal compared to the some of the rates in the suburbs: Supermarket chain Giant once bid more than $450,000 for a license in Abington Township.

This is hardly Wawa’s first foray into beer in Philly. You’ll recall the company produced a collaboration beverage with Delco brewery 2SP last year. And actually, Wawa also used to sell beer in at least one Philly location — on Penn’s campus — back in the 1990s, according to an old student newspaper article the Philly Voice turned up. That location, at the corner of 38th and Spruce, sounds like a true recipe for disaster. (Maybe it explains why the company subsequently got out of the drink-selling business.)

We don’t yet know where the new alcoholic Wawa will be located — a company spokesperson couldn’t be reached with a request for comment. We’ve got some ideas, though. Why not choose the company’s crown jewel location off Independence Hall? With its fancy murals and seating arrangements, it already feels closer to a coffee shop than a convenience store. Plus, you’ll be mere steps away from where Jefferson, and Washington, and Adams signed the Declaration. In one hand you’ll have a hoagie, in the other a beer. What better tribute is there to liberty than that?