As the sun rises over Penn’s campus, the smell of hot coffee, toasted Sizzli breakfast sandwiches, and fresh Amoroso rolls wafts through the air. It’s not coming from a local West Philly kitchen, and definitely not from campus dining. The source? Wawa.
With made–to–order sandwiches and a myriad of hot and cold caffeinated drinks, Wawas are a lifeline for the city. It’s a go–to spot for hoagies, the Philadelphia favorite that consists of deli meat, cheese, and various toppings on an Italian roll (also known by its inferior alternate names: subs, grinders, and heroes). For many Penn students, Wawa is more than a place to grab a lunchtime hoagie—it's a sanctuary. It's where you go to refuel after a grueling study session, to satisfy your late–night munchies, and to find solace in a sea of snacks when the weight of college life gets heavy. Let's face it, Penn students already have plenty on their plates (pun intended). Wawa is the convenience and sustenance that every overcommitted, underprepared college student needs.
This love for Wawa isn’t restricted to Penn’s borders. Wawa is beloved throughout the Mid–Atlantic. The chain began as a dairy business named for its hometown, Wawa, Pennsylvania, whose name derives from a Native American word meaning, "Canada goose." The first Wawa Food Market opened in 1964 as an outlet for dairy products. Today, it’s synonymous with its quality hoagies, suburban gas stations, and iconic Canada goose logo.
For Philadelphia resident Evyn Appel, Wawa is a trusted one–stop shop.
“It always has what you crave—and it's not just a wide selection, but it's also good quality," she says. What menu item does she recommend? Wawa’s cheesy quesadillas with as many toppings as possible.
Loyalty to Wawa and the culture surrounding the brand is incredibly strong throughout Pennsylvania.
Tommy Kramer, a Pa. resident from Chester Springs, grew up buying Wawa slushies after Little League practices and taking Wawa hoagies on the drives to baseball tournaments. Tommy is a Wawa loyalist who remains steadfast with his slushies even on 7–Eleven's free Slurpee Day, and feels that it outmatches other convenience stores such as Sheetz, a local competitor.
“The Philly culture surrounding Wawa is so much stronger than it is with Sheetz," he says. "[Sheetz] has big stores, but they don't match the energy of Wawa.”
For Philadelphia residents, summer is eponymous with Wawa. The season starts off with a bang, with the Wawa Welcome America Festival on July 4 that features fireworks, a parade, and endless Wawa swag. Then there’s Wawa Hoagie Day, where Wawa gives away seven tons of free hoagies in the Independence Mall area. And lest we forget, no Philly summer is complete without Hoagiefest, a beloved monthlong promotion between June and July where you can buy any classic hoagie for $6 and any shortie for $5.
“The fact that I can stop at a Wawa and get a $6 lunch that lasts me the whole day is really nice,” Tommy says, regarding Hoagiefest. He also approves of Wawa’s partnership with newly–minted Phillies legend Kyle Schwarber—the “Schwarbomb” drink, appropriately priced at $4.88 (in honor of his legendary 488–foot homer), will run through the 2023 World Series.
“[The] Phillies and Wawa now go together for me,” Tommy says.
While summer brings out Wawa’s special place in the hearts of locals, the day–to–day love affair between Philadelphia and Wawa has recently grown strained. On July 16, the last day of Hoagiefest, Wawa closed its Headhouse Square location in Society Hill at Second and Lombard streets. This came after neighborhood associations complained about aggressive panhandling, crime, and drug use in and surrounding the store.
Joe Dain, cofounder of the Delancey Square Town Watch, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his group and other neighborhood associations had met with Wawa in April to discuss their concerns about the Headhouse Square location. Wawa had already taken steps to address their complaints, such as limiting its hours, hiring private security, and working with city police to provide patrols.
“What we were addressing was the fact that more needed to be done,” Dain says.
Regarding the closure of the Headhouse Square Wawa, Dain states that “Although we’re not proponents of empty businesses in this beautiful area, we certainly support the idea of having a business close that’s been the source of a lot of issues.”
According to a statement from Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce, “While closing a store is always a difficult decision to make, Wawa constantly conducts careful and extensive evaluations of business performance and operational challenges of all stores on an ongoing basis."
Last year, Wawa reported that “continued safety and security challenges and business factors” drove them to close two other Philadelphia locations. Both were located in the heart of Center City at 12th and Market streets and 19th and Market streets. Together, they make up three of the six Philadelphia Wawas that have closed since 2020. Several Center City Wawas have curbed their 24–hour services, meaning that for people craving midnight Takis, your Wawa might no longer be open for late–night snacks.
The Wawas closer to Penn are in the midst of similar ongoing conflicts and challenges. Last fall, a group of people pepper sprayed Wawa employees at the 36th and Chestnut location, only a few steps from campus. And over the past year, students have received a steady stream of UPennAlert notifications for incidents on the 3700 and 3800 blocks of Spruce Street. The Penn Wawas have a reputation for being rowdy. Then 2025 Class Board President and current College junior Will Krasnow told The Daily Pennsylvanian that while he hasn't had any negative experiences at Wawa himself, he is aware that “some students [feel unsafe] and definitely consider it an issue.”
Wawas are a hub for busy Philadelphians and Penn students alike. But safety and security concerns draw a negative light on ongoing criminal issues that continues to plague this beloved chain, prompting the company to potentially reevaluate their business model. Yet despite these obstacles, Wawa's unique place in the lives of Philadelphians endures. It is a beloved fixture in the city's landscape. It’s also important to recognize that Wawa has always followed its own boom and bust cycle. The company closed several Center City locations in the 2000s, only to open new locations, including the largest in the country, in Philadelphia starting in the mid–2010s.
Ultimately, we’re hopefully just witnessing Wawa’s routine pattern of withdrawal and eventual reinvestment in Philadelphia. Both Philly residents and Penn students deserve to experience the magic of a fresh hoagie and cold slushy from the city’s most iconic convenience store.