Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Wonder of Wawa

Ever feel the need to baffle and confuse a friend who doesn't live in a state near you? (And who hasn't?) I recommend this sentence:

I'm off for a Wawa hoagie. Want one?”

If your friend doesn't happen to be a resident of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland or Virginia that statement will sound very odd.

Of course, after decades of confusion with terms like hero, sub, zep, torpedo, blimp, blimpie (and even The Dagwood, believe it or not) most of America has come to understand just what a hoagie is. That battle is won.

It's the Wawa part that will have your friend scratching his head. I know it sounds very normal to Delaware County folks, but to get an idea of how that sounds to non-Delco ears think of the first time you heard of the supermarket chain called Piggly Wiggly. You're smiling, right?

First reactions to the word Wawa usually are some meant-to-be-funny variation of baby talk for “water.”

Can I get a glass of wawa at the Wawa?”

More sophisticated comments center on a fairly well known George Harrison song or the actual Native American origin of the word (it was their term for the Canada Goose that was found in the Delaware Valley.)

The company actually started as a New Jersey iron foundry in 1803, but really took hold as a dairy farm in … that's right … Delaware County's Wawa, Pa. That was in 1902.

By the 1920s the demand for milk skyrocketed and so did Wawa home milk delivery, bolstered by the hard-to-resist slogan, “Buy Health by the Bottle.” (I might have emphasized having health delivered to your door, but what do I know about advertising in the 1920s?)

When the demand for home delivery dropped (I have no idea why, since that seems like a pretty cool system to me), the Wawa Food Market was born. The first store opened on April 16, 1964 in Folsom, at MacDade Blvd. And Swarthmore Ave.

I remember walking into a Wawa for the first time in the mid-70s and being very impressed. Try to imagine Apu's Quik-E-Mart from The Simpsons … then think the opposite. It was clean, had good quality lunch meats, rolls, (naturally) milk and was not extremely expensive for a “convenience” store.

When I realized it was a local enterprise I was all the more willing to go a little out of my way to get the better quality.

Soon I didn't have to.

Wawa was popping up everywhere. Today there are three stores within a two-mile radius of my old house. And they have come a long way from their milk-only roots.

Every time I come back to Delco for a visit, Wawa is doing something new. It started with them promoting the coffee (I think they were ahead of their time on that one). Then the hoagies. I was skeptical, but yes … they serve a Philadelphia-quality sandwich, which I believe is the highest hoagie standard.

And now it's gasoline. I haven't gotten Wawa gas yet, but I have no doubt it will be a huge success. I believe the day is coming when you may never need to go to any other store. I have seen the future and it consists of Wawa sofas, pets, cars, shoes, lingerie, computers, books, real estate, dentists, barbers and lawyers.

They will all be high quality. They will all be Delco-based. They will all make our non-local friends giggle a little.

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