What do you know about Wawa? 7 fun facts about Pennsylvania’s beloved convenience store

A Pennsylvania Wawa store from the 1970s. (Photo: Wawa)

By Kalena Thomhave

April 15, 2024

Wawa has 60 years of Pennsylvania roots, and today the commonwealth’s largest private company has more than 1,000 locations along the east coast.

Wawa, the Delaware County-based convenience store chain with a devoted following — particularly in the Greater Philadelphia area — celebrates 60 years of business on Tuesday with free coffee for customers on Wawa Day. But did you know Wawa was a part of the Pennsylvania landscape long before the first Wawa market opened its doors in Folsom, Pa. on April 16, 1964?

We’ve unearthed some fun facts about the chain, which got its start in Pennsylvania before it built more than 1,000 stores, opening locations in northern New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. That expansion will continue in May when Wawa opens its first North Carolina store.

Grab a hoagie, gas up, and sit back to learn about one of (more on that later) Pa.’s favorite gas station markets.

Wawa isn’t just a funny, made-up name.

There’s a much simpler explanation for the Wawa moniker: The convenience store chain is headquartered in the small Delco town of Wawa. That’s also where an early incarnation of the Wawa business — a dairy farm — got its start in 1902. But is the town name just nonsense? Nope!

The town of Wawa’s name comes from the Ojibwe term for a snow goose — we’we, actually pronounced “way-way.” Fittingly, the Wawa logo is emblazoned with a Canada goose! Plus, Wawa’s mascot, Wally Goose, is a Canada goose.

“Wawa is a state of mind,” Wawa’s then-vice president Fritz Schroeder told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989. “If you want to be in Wawa, you can be in Wawa.”

The family business behind Wawa is more than 200 years old.

But of course, Wawa gas stations and convenience stores haven’t been around for 200 years. The business first started as a New Jersey iron foundry in 1803. Roughly 100 years later, the family shifted to the dairy industry, establishing the Wawa Dairy Farm at the turn of the 20th century.

Wawa’s transition to the current store model is a history lesson illustrating changing consumer preferences.

For decades, the Wawa Dairy Farm sold milk and dairy products to people in Greater Philadelphia. When Wawa began selling pasteurized milk — safer than raw milk — its popularity grew. But after World War II, people began to rely less on the roving milkman and more on neighborhood stores. So, Wawa transitioned to the store model to meet that consumer preference.

Nearly 40% of the Wawa company is owned by its associates through an employee stock-sharing program.

In 1977, Wawa began sharing profits with its employees through a traditional employee benefit, a profit-sharing program. Then, in 1993, it transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which grants workers company stock. As a result, Wawa employees own a sizable portion of the company — which is the largest private company in Pennsylvania.

You can visit a Wawa with a retro theme at the Jersey Shore.

The Wildwood, N.J. Wawa has a retro design with wavy lines and lots of neon lights. The design is a nod to Wildwood’s role as an early hub for doo-wop music.

Whad’ya Know About Wawa? Fun Facts About The Beloved Convenience Store

Wildwood Wawa by Anthony Quintano // CC BY 2.0 Deed.

You can get cash at Wawa without paying extra fees.

Wawa made ATMs at its stores surcharge-free in 1996 as part of a partnership with PNC Bank. Since then, customers have made more than a billion surcharge-free withdrawals — and when it hit one billion in 2010, there was a parade. You may not have known about Wawa’s fee-free ATMs if you’ve just assumed every ATM is out to exploit you for $5. Not those at Wawa! Thank you, Wawa.

Wawa fans may have beef with Sheetz, but Wawa does not.

I’m working on a modern adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” called “The Pennsylvania Story: A Tale of a Convenience Store Rivalry: Maybe Three, If You’re Counting Rutter’s.” Yeah, it’s got two colons.

Anyway, Sheetz fans and Wawa fans have fought the good fight, mostly via internet comments, about which Pennsylvania-based gas station chain is better, by way of important factors like which has tastier made-to-order options, friendlier staff, and cleaner bathrooms. But Wawa and Sheetz are actually on pretty good terms as companies because the rivalry isn’t too strong on the balance sheet…z. Wawa has its side of the state in eastern Pa. and Sheetz has the west.

Now, there have been reports of Wawa infringing on Sheetz territory by trying to expand into central Pa. If there is a confrontation, it will definitely inspire the climax of my story about star-crossed lovers, cursed to work at different gas stations.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.What do you know about Wawa? 7 fun facts about Pennsylvania's beloved convenience storeWhat do you know about Wawa? 7 fun facts about Pennsylvania's beloved convenience store

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