The brand-new Wawa on Route 202 between Wilmington and Concordville has something I hadn't seen at a Wawa before: Tables and chairs.
Except for a few experiments, the 600-store chain, based outside Media, has operated on the principle of grab, pay, and scram. Take your hoagie and your coffee, and eat it in your truck or on the job. Convenience, not relaxation. Hey, it's the Northeast.
But this 16-gas-pump, hoagies-smokes-snacks-and-Cokes shop adds four two-seater metal tables on the porch sidewalk, amid the square, stone porch pillars, inviting customers to sit awhile.
"Outside seating is new to the area. In fact, this is the first store to have it in this region," Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said.
Wawa's big new stores in Florida have outdoor seats, and that has worked well, says Bruce. So the chain, owned by members of the founding Wood family, company executives, and about half of Wawa's 20,000 employees, is adding tables at "select" new stores around Philadelphia. (In Florida, you can also buy beer at a Wawa. But even down there, you're not supposed to drink it at the store.)
This busy commercial strip lost its 24-hour diner when the Turkish immigrants who ran the nearby Golden Castle shut down a couple of years back. It has been replaced by one of those new chain doctors' offices hoping to serve Obamacare patients. A handful of tables at Wawa are not quite a substitute, though the store is comfortably back from the busy highway.
Among Wawa's neighboring chains, Sheetz, doing business largely in Western Pennsylvania, covering northern Appalachia, offers seating in its red-painted stores, typically situated on highways and bypasses.
Royal Farms, the Baltimore gas-and-fried-chicken outfit that will open its first Philadelphia-area location in Ridley Park later this year, has also put up meal counters in some stores.
That Royal Farms outlet will be part of the planned Ridley Square development, along with a 78-room Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham, a Wendy's, and other stores signed to the site by developer Kathryn Rinnier in a $20 million project backed by $3.75 million in state grants. Remington Group Inc., of Wayne, is both owner's rep and project manager.
"We would like to own more in Philadelphia. And we will, in the next 12 months," Doug Fleit, chief executive officer of Herndon, Va.-based American Real Estate Partners, tells me.
Fleit's firm and partner, Independencia Asset Management, said it has spent $90 million to buy 1100, 1150, and 1200 Merrill Lynch Dr. in Hopewell Township, near Princeton. Those are three of the 12 buildings on the Merrill Lynch office campus, which Bank of America Corp. sold to Fortress Investment Group and its partner Sansome Pacific Properties in 2012 for a reported $375 million. BofA has been reducing employment at the center, which once employed 6,500, but will stay in the buildings Fleit's group bought.
The firm's last high-profile Philly investment was the conversion of part of Two Liberty Place's vacant office space into condos and the R2L restaurant. But Fleit told me he's looking at Center City's office market, not its red-hot apartments, for his next Philly deal. "We like Philadelphia's market dynamics," Fleit says.
Speaking of Philly offices, FMC Corp. spokesman James Fitzwater said Monday the company was not ready to announce a new headquarters.