For many West Orange Wawa fans, Christmas is coming early with the arrival of the convenience store’s first Winter Garden location Dec. 22.
| 12:05 p.m. December 21, 2016
West Orange Times & Observer
WINTER GARDEN For MetroWest resident Andrew Murray, a New Jersey native, Wawa is somewhat a way of life.
Having grown up on the Jersey shore, Murray also grew up on Wawa. He held a summer job at one of the infamous convenience stores, as did both his father and brother. One could say it runs in the family.
“It’s kind of a way of life in South Jersey— you get your coffee there and go there for lunch and sometimes dinner,” he said.
In New Jersey, Murray said, there’s a Wawa on every corner. Now, four years after the first one opened in Florida, it’s West Orange County’s turn to see what all the fuss is about.
After spending much of 2016 under construction, Winter Garden’s highly anticipated Wawa is ready for business. Located on the corner of West Colonial Drive and Dillard Street, the new 6,119-square-foot convenience store and eight-pump gas station created roughly 45 jobs. It will open its doors on Thursday, Dec. 22 — and Murray plans to be one of the first people in line.
After moving in 2002 to Florida, Murray noticed the store’s absence in Central Florida. He loves Wawa much for the same reason a person loves Christmas — it’s something from his childhood.
“It was a part of my life for so long, and I kind of missed it for 10 years when I moved here,” he said. “You really realize how much you loved it, and it was something that was part of my life since I was born. You learn to appreciate it.”
The first Wawa Food Market opened in April 1964 in Folsom, Pennsylvania. Over the years, it has evolved to include fuel stations, freshly brewed coffee, made-to-order food and more. Now, there are more than 630 Wawa stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Florida.
When the first Wawa in Florida opened across from SeaWorld in July 2012, Murray hardly could contain his excitement. He and his wife soaked in the atmosphere as he took pictures and savored the nostalgia of it all. He even got a photo with the convenience store’s mascot.
“It was like tailgating at a Philadelphia Eagles game,” Murray said of the first Florida store’s grand opening. “Everyone there was from my neck of the woods, the governor was there, I think the Orange County mayor was there. There was a whole slew of guest speakers. It was a really big deal.”
He’s not the only one excited to have a Wawa closer to home, though. Winter Garden resident Christina Marinelli was introduced to Wawa when she went away to college in Pennsylvania. She was immediately hooked on the hoagies, Tastykakes and sweet tea.
“They have the hoagies (subs), which nearly rival Publix’s and may even be better,” Marinelli said. “I think that Wawa’s sweet tea is better than anything I’ve had down here in the south, and that’s saying a lot, drinking southern sweet tea.”
Although Marinelli grew up in Florida, her grandfather would come down to visit from Pennsylvania and bring Tastykakes and butterscotch crumpets along with him. Now that a Wawa — and Tastykakes — will be five minutes down the road from her, the excitement is really setting in.
“They’re really good: I don’t even really share them with my family; I buy them for myself!” Marinelli said of Tastykakes. “I’m really excited. Normally, we’d have to drive all the way over by SeaWorld to go over to Wawa, and now there’s one that’s less than five minutes from my house. What sets them apart from other convenience stores is their customer service. They’re always super friendly and personable, and they always make sure they interact with my child, which is really important to me.”
Sharing the Wawa experience with family is also important to Murray: In fact, he got his wife, Gretchin, hooked on it the first time he took her to New Jersey.
“We were dating maybe three months and went up for a friend’s wedding,” he said. “As soon as we got off the plane, we went to Wawa. I had to show her what the big deal was.”
And although they are Metro-West residents and won’t have a Wawa right down the road for a while, they’ll be moving to Winter Garden soon to be closer to Gretchin’s job — or so the story goes.
“That’s the reason why we’re moving — there’s no Wawa close enough,” Murray joked.