An unfamiliar brand of convenience stores is expanding into Central Florida, and Winter Park may be one of the first to get one after the City Commission voted 5-0 to let a Wawa store begin construction.
“Welcome to Winter Park,” Commissioner Tom McMacken said to representatives from the family-owned Wawa convenience store chain, which has proposed building a $5 million store and gas station abutting the south end of the Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar property along U.S. Highway 17/92.
The chain, which according to Wawa regional real estate manager Brian Pomycacz is 28 percent employee owned, already operates 589 stores in five states. Nearly all of the company’s stores are within a 200-mile radius of the first store, located in Wawa, Pa. Florida would be new territory for the company, whose closest location is in southern Maryland.
With not many in the city familiar with the brand, the Oct. 24 City Commission meeting took on more of a TV commercial feel than a quasi-judicial hearing for allowing the store to be built.
“This is not your regular convenience store,” Pomycacz said. “Most retailers in the country have a Facebook page. Wawa has five times the number of followers on Facebook compared to your average retailer like Starbucks.”
The company’s 15-minute pitch, including a video featuring the governor of Pennsylvania, sold the Commission on the idea.
“You’re talking about a $7 billion family-owned well-respected company that’s just so much more than a gas station,” Commissioner Steven Leary said.
But some in the chamber weren’t convinced.
“All things being equal, I don’t think this is what I’d like to see in Winter Park,” resident William Shallcross said, referring to the look of the building. “It’s kind of precedent-setting.”
Shallcross also mentioned that the city could use more gas stations, a point about which Mayor Ken Bradley agreed.
“The number of gas stations seems to have decreased dramatically in the city, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” Bradley said. “I’m very impressed with Wawa, and I’m excited to have them in the city.”
Among a few advantages to bringing the store to the city, Pomycacz said, the company will hire between 30-40 employees, including 3-5 full-time managers with full benefits. Some in the meeting likened the store’s treatment of employees to Publix, the privately owned grocery store chain that began in Central Florida.
Bradley, along with Leary, said he was impressed with the store and wanted to see it come to Winter Park.
“I visited one outside of Philadelphia many years ago,” Bradley said. “It was very impressive. I don’t think they’re your typical convenience store.”