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June 23, 2022

Wawa plans to invade Sheetz territory with 40 new stores in central Pennsylvania

A documentary about the rivalry between the two companies is currently in the works by director Matthew J. Fridge

Business Wawa
Wawa Central Pennsylvania Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Wawa unveiled plans to add up to 40 new stores in central Pennsylvania, where rival Sheetz has a strong presence.

Wawa has been building up for a major U.S. expansion over the past year, planning hundreds of new stores in several southern states, but it also wants to establish a stronger foothold in Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, the Delaware County-based company announced plans to open as many as 40 new stores in central Pennsylvania, where Altoona-based Sheetz has long been the dominant option for customers. 

“With a commitment to fulfilling lives, we’re thrilled to continue our growth and expansion in our existing markets to provide quality fresh food, beverages and support to the community,” said John Poplawski, vice president of real estate for Wawa. “In addition, Wawa’s continued expansion will mean even more convenience and new jobs in the Central Pennsylvania community.”

Wawa currently has 17 stores in Berks and Lancaster counties. It's unclear how far into central Pennsylvania the company plans to venture, but it encourages people to fill out an online form to suggest sites for future store locations.

There are currently about 965 Wawa stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C. Wawa plans to begin opening stores in North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee in the coming years, with a goal of doubling its total store count by 2030.

The convenience store chain has come a long way since its humble beginnings, first as an iron foundry in the early 19th century and later as a dairy farm and processing plant in the early 20th century. The company thrived as a milk delivery business until it began opening stores in the 1960's to adapt to a changing market.

Wawa's growth is expected to expand the use of drive-thru stores, which debuted in Westhampton, New Jersey in late 2020 and Morrisville, Bucks County early last year.

Notably, the expansion plan does not include adding any stores north of New Jersey. The company abandoned its Connecticut and New York stores and many of its North Jersey locations in the 1990s. They were sold to a number of chains including Krauszer's Food Stores, which bought the 22 Connecticut locations in 1996.

Since then, Wawa has regained some of its presence in North Jersey. Today, its northernmost location outside of Pennsylvania is in Morris County, New Jersey.

Sheetz, established in 1952, began a significant expansion in central and western Pennsylvania in the 1980s. The company now has more than 630 stores across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The two companies — which offer a similar mix of convenience items, made-to-order food and fuel — have not had much overlap in Pennsylvania. They've been the subject of light-hearted rivalry with plenty of banter over the years, from Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman's Sheetz allegiance to a documentary in the making that will examine the competition. Late night TV host Seth Meyers discussed the two stores last month and revealed he's a Sheetz guy.

Barstool sports writer Dana Beers attempted to settle the debate a few years ago after trying Sheetz out for the first time.

Wawa's planned expansion deeper into Pennsylvania raises the question of whether Sheetz will eventually plant a flag in the Philadelphia area. The closest store in Pennsylvania is in Morgantown, Berks County.