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In the fall of 2015, the Pope came to Philadelphia. There was perimeter, there was potty, there was a mass for hundreds of thousands on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Unlike what happens at any other public event in Philadelphia, however Everyone was very nice. C-collars remained unused;; nobody lit everything on fire. Philadelphia loves the Pope, but not with his famous booing, projectile throwing, Climbing fat bars Kind of love. The worship that greeted the Holy Father was faithful, reverential, perhaps too uncritical, and very familiar. Philadelphia loves the Pope as he loves Wawa.
So it makes perfect sense that Wawa, the local grocery and deli that has over 850 stores in six states and in Washington, DC, is unremarkable With the word „cultWas involved in all aspects of the Pope’s visit. you rushed to open their downtown flagship store before the coming of His Holiness; When the mayor cut the ribbon, he promised to offer the pontiff a hoagie of his choiceWawa distributed branded water fed during the fair Legions of first responders, and Hire a cardboard bishop of Rome for selfies.
A billboard with the inscription „Wawa greets Pope Francis, “To sum up my entire childhood so succinctly that it almost felt rude. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and spent 13 years in Catholic school. In our plaid skirts and definitely unhidden Oxford shirts, my classmates and I chased the local wawa, sipped the turkey shorti hoagies and drank endless amounts of French vanilla coffee. I don’t remember the last time I had communion, but when I go home I seek the touchscreen sacrament of wawa-hoagie.
The first Wawa supermarket opened in Folsom, Pennsylvania in 1964 as a result of the company’s dairy business. Expansion into the three states of New Jersey and Delaware soon followed, but the wawa people who now know and love emerged in the 1980s when the deli counter and coffee were introduced. (The company timeline, which is extremely helpful, shows that the chain won „Best of Philly” for coffee and delicatessen in 1986Wawa was a creature of the suburbs at the time, and its offerings reflected the needs and tastes of the middle class almost too closely: Shorti Hoagies were introduced in 1992 for the more nutrition-conscious, toll-free ATMs in 1995, for the hot breakfast rolls for commuters in 1996 – that was also the same year that some stores added gasoline.
It’s all about this my Wawa: It’s not a gas station store. The Super Wawas (as they are called) are creatures of the suburbs and the chain’s expansion into more distant states, or at least that’s how I still think of them. Some suburban communities Fight Super Wawas because they threaten family owned Gas stations in the vicinity or because their large footprint and threatening 24-hour openings ill-defined chaos with traffic and rabble. With all the regional loyalty to the chain, there is a setback against the size of Wawa. And Wawa is really, really big. A 2011 Philadelphia Magazine history noted that the chain was the No. 8 seller of coffee in the country at the time and that if it weren’t privately owned, it would be a Fortune 500 company. 2011 was the eve of Wawa’s huge expansion on I-95; 10 years later, the company has added more than 300 stores.
But all of this growth has not significantly affected the cult of Wawa, which sums up the contradiction of the regional chain. The popular regional grocery or fast food restaurant, like all chains, needs to grow to satisfy its investors, but it also needs to remain specific to its territory and offer a real or perceived level of quality to justify the pride of the area. When you go to Wawa, which you can easily do almost anywhere in the Delaware Valley, it offers not the homeless convenience and disappointment of national chains, but rather the parochial convenience and limitations of what Philadelphia has to offer. Wawa supports a whole mini-economy of other companies in the Philadelphia area by stocking brands like Herr’s Potato Chips and Tastykakes, as well as many of its own Wawa branded goods, including milk. His hoagies are made at Amorosos Bun, a local bakery whose crispy, flaky Italian buns are to Philadelphia’s culinary identity what a corner deli bagel is to New York or a generic boulangerie baguette to Paris – a ubiquitous everyday style, without which life would not taste right.
And as it stretches further and further from home, don’t forget: Wawa calls a Hoagie a Hoagie, even in Florida. The regional rivalry with Sheetz, another gas station / convenience store brand, emphasizes that Wawa belongs to the region it grew in – Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley – rather than any other, more suspicious, regions of Pennsylvania where the touchscreen-ordered gas station sandwiches are „Subz. ”
It’s difficult to explain what it is like to be from Philadelphia, or at least my suburb of Philadelphia in the 90s. Many people across America grew up in suburbs built over farms, attended Catholic schools, and treacly drank French vanilla coffee to look grown up. There’s a version of this person whose suburbs were built over orange groves instead of dairy farms, or whose Catholic school was outside of Toledo instead of Philadelphia, or whose French vanilla coffee was from July 11th or even Sheetz. The genericity of suburban living makes us hold onto specific grips even when it isn’t The Specific. Perhaps we cling to these the most. A strong sense of nostalgia hit me when I came across a pin that was designed with the Wawa logo – the good old one, with the sunset and a silhouetted goose – that read „yawning” in the Wawa script. It was on sale at the till of a whole food home; A moment after I felt seen, I felt angry.
I downloaded the wawa p as a research for writing this essay and every time I see the logo I want to open this p and be able to order an Italian hoagie. At least I want to know when I could be close enough to a wawa again to do that. But I don’t wish I had a wawa in Los Angeles to order from. If there were only a wawas or two here, it would be novel, not a stle. If there were Wawas in Southern California, the chain would lose its sense of home. Wawa’s power rests on being both massive and specific, a regional giant. And in a city where we threw off kings, it’s the only brand big enough and Loved enough (sorry, Comcast) to welcome dignitaries and treat them to a hoagie of their choice.
Naya Cheyenne is a Miami-based multimedia illustrator and designer from Brooklyn.