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March 09, 2023

Wawa has plans for a store across the street from Sheetz in town near Penn State University

The rivalry between the two convenience chains is heating up as Wawa moves forward with its expansion into central Pennsylvania

Business Wawa
Wawa Penn State Sheetz Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Wawa could soon open a Happy Valley store as the company begins an expansion into central Pennsylvania, entering the territory of rival convenience store chain Sheetz.

Wawa will continue its push into central Pennsylvania with a store in Happy Valley, raising its iconic goose logo across the street from a rival Sheetz store in Benner Township.

The Centre Daily Times reported Wawa has drawn up plans to open across from the Sheetz at 2850 Benner Pike, which is a 10 minute drive north of State College and the campus of Penn State University. Benner Township secretary and treasurer Sharon Royer said the proposal is in an early stage and has not yet been reviewed by township supervisors or submitted to the county planning office.

The store in Benner Township would be Wawa's furthest Pennsylvania outpost from its established foothold in the Philly area, at least for now. The Delaware County-based convenience store chain has plans for several other locations in that region, Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce said Thursday.

"We can’t confirm exact timelines and locations yet, but we can say that we are planning for a number of sites in Happy Valley," Bruce said. "We look forward to serving our loyal Wawa customers there as soon as 2025."

Last summer, Wawa announced plans to build 40 stores in central Pennsylvania, pushing into territory mostly populated with Sheetz stores and other convenience store chains. Wawa is ubiquitous in southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey, and it has become an ingrained part of the region's culture.

But in recent years the company has closed or reduced the hours of stores in the city. Wawa pointed to crime and safety concerns when it shuttered several Center City stores last year, saying it would rethink whether Philly will be part of the company's ambitious plan to double its store count by 2030.

Wawa currently has nearly 1,000 stores. Besides locally, there are stores in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C., and the company is in the process of expanding to new states, including Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Wawa has more than a dozen stores in Berks and Lancaster counties, but it's unclear how far into central Pennsylvania the company will venture. When Wawa announces plans to expand, there is an online form people can use to suggest sites for those future Wawa locations. It's little surprise that Penn State students, many of whom come from the Philly area, would make Happy Valley an attractive geographic target.

Sheetz, based in Altoona, was established in 1952 and aggressively expanded in central and western Pennsylvania in in 1980s. The company has more than 670 stores, including nearly 300 in Pennsylvania, and has expanded into Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

The light-hearted rivalry between the two chains, including U.S. Sen. John Fetterman's allegiance to Sheetz from his days as Braddock's mayor, is the subject of an upcoming documentary. But the competition looks to be getting a bit more real as Wawa enters Sheetz turf and expands into states where Sheetz already has a presence.

Could Sheetz be planning a counterstrike in the Philly area to match Wawa's growth strategy? Not at the moment, at least. 

“While new stores in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties are not in the works at this time, Sheetz is constantly growing and we are always evaluating opportunities to bring our brand to new communities," said Nick Ruffner, the company's public relations manager. 

Rutter's, another convenience store and gas station chain in Pennsylvania, announced in January that it's expanding into both the Philly and Pittsburgh areas in the coming years.

Wawa's plan in Centre County will first undergo a preliminary engineering review for stormwater and traffic. There's no immediate timeline for the store, but Penn State students might soon have a place to satisfy hankerings from the Philly area.