The Wash

Adams Morgan locals on new Wawa store: Mostly ‘Meh’

Less than a month after opening on Adams Morgan’s famed 18th Street strip, local shoppers and business owners say Wawa doesn’t create that much of a dent on convenience store activity.

Despite being a well-known brand on the East Coast since the early 1960s, Wawa as a business is over two centuries old. The New Jersey born establishment began as an iron foundry, later converting its interests to the dairy industry and finally transformed into a food market business in 1964. 

Capitalizing on an attractive and busy Adams Morgan, Wawa “thinks it’ll do well here so of course they opened a branch,” said Alaa’Edin, a local business owner.

Two blocks down, opposite the Marie Reed Community Center, Alaa’Edin runs Khartoum Halal Bakkal, a Middle Eastern convenience store. While offering an array of imported goods in the front of his shop, Alaa’Edin also operates an Islamic butcher shop in the back. 

“Wawa doesn’t really affect me,” he said. “I don’t serve coffee, I’m not open 24 hours a day, but my clients are a lot and it’ll keep me going.”

Wawa stores are open 24 hours a day with freshly brewed coffee around the clock. The store opened in late September and is the fourth installment in Washington, D.C. (Yousef Alshammari / The Wash)

The Sudanese-American pointed to his hookah tobacco collection and smirked, asking if Wawa offers imported products like his shop. When a shopper came to check out their purchase, Alaa’Edin picked up a bottle of Egyptian mango nectar and asked, “can Wawa sell you this?” 

Wawa offers an array of signature and affordable built-to-order sandwiches, salads and freshly brewed coffee. However, Wawa “doesn’t sell alcohol and cigarettes,” Alaa’Edin said. 

Competing with local supermarkets is another obstacle, Alaa’Edin said, given that Wawa doesn’t sell fresh produce. Being another prominent convenient store, 7-Eleven would be the main competitor, he said.

“If anything, Wawa might compete with the 7-Eleven stores around for cigarettes because if people are having a good time on 18th Street, they’re not going to get anything other than coffee and a sandwich from Wawa,” he said.

On the opposite street, separated only by a collection of Adams Morgan’s Victorian inspired houses, a yet-to-be-open Streets Market mirrors Wawa’s location on Columbia Road. A few blocks up 18th Street is also a Safeway with a 7-Eleven store close by. 

“I’ve never even walked into a Wawa store before,” said Autumn Anthony, a local resident and international programs coordinator at George Washington University. 

“I get my groceries from Yes market or Safeway and if I want coffee, I’ll go to Tryst or Pitango. I’d rather go to a 7-Eleven for gum or something than Wawa,” she said. 

A September 2019 Statista report placed 7-Eleven with the highest All Commodity Volume, ACV, at almost $35 billion. ACV measures the total annual sales volume aggregated from a local to a national level. The method of analysis basically signifies a ratio of profit. 

Although Wawa’s ACV stands at $9.8 billion, it’s less than a third of 7-Eleven’s retail power. However, when it comes to sandwiches, Wawa is a national favorite. A May 2019 Statista report states Wawa’s favorability among U.S. sandwich consumers stands at 62%.

Unlike Anthony, Joe Qian, an Adams Morgan resident and World Bank external affairs officer, said Wawa shouldn’t be taken lightly with its “speed and marketing prowess.”

“We’ve already gotten coupons from them,” Qian said on Wawa mailing promotions to nearby residents before the opening.

Qian’s concern revolved around the replacement of “mom and pop stores” as franchised brands like Wawa open up across the District, but he also noted how a shift in “tastes and preferences” reflect the new business climate. 

For local customers, Qian said, “low prices and decent quality” are favorable elements even if Wawa’s affect on other convenience stores “is yet to be seen.” 

“Wawa will definitely force other convenience stores to step up their game, maybe even fast food restaurants and sandwich shops,” he said.

Along with neighborhood’s cafes serving sandwiches and snacks, the area also hosts a score of fast food establishments like Popeyes and multiple pizza stores.

A May 2019 Statista report states Wawa’s favorability among U.S. sandwich consumers stands at 62%. 

On Aug. 1, Wawa announced another opening at One Thomas Circle. The new store would be the fifth installment in Washington, D.C.

“The flipside to chains” opening up in a neighborhood like Adams Morgan though, Qian said, is making “the neighborhood less interesting and more similar to other neighborhoods around the country.”

Yousef Alshammari

I’m a DC-based Kuwaiti journalist working on a graduate degree in international journalism at American University. Politics and culture by day, insomnia and fiction by night.

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