Shore town bids 'somber' farewell to a beloved Wawa

VENTNOR, N.J. — Some things outsiders wouldn’t understand.

Sure, there’s another Wawa less than a mile away, over the Dorset Avenue Bridge and a few blocks up Ventnor Avenue. And sure, this Wawa never had the notoriety of its sister in Margate, the legendary Club Wa.

But for tough little Ventnor Heights, an often flooded-in Shore community bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway on one side and the back bay on the other, the Wawa on Dorset Avenue was an essential part of life.

Not to mention for anyone headed down the Shore to Ventnor from Philly or, Springsteen style, pulling out of the Boardwalk town for better things. The Dorset Avenue Wawa was your place, coming or going.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Wawa Inc. pulled up to the store with massive generators and parked them in the impossibly small parking lot, and the beloved convenience store was like a beacon to people sorting out ruined belongings and homes.

“It was our lifeline,” recalled Ventnor Heights resident Lori Nolan, who stopped in Wednesday.

Mostly, though, it was just the most convenient place for coffee and the usual Wawa late-night fare. But this week, after weeks of rumors, the company owned up, posted signs, and gave away coffee. Midnight Wednesday was the official closing time.

Already, the shelves were shockingly free of Tastykakes and Entenmann’s.

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg / Staff
On Wednesday, the shelves were running low on favorite treats.

Wawa director of store operations Marian Weiser left copies of a letter addressed to “Loyal Wawa Customers” on the counter and described the closing of the store after 33 years as “bittersweet.”

“You have truly embraced us as an integral part of your community,” she said. “For that we will always be grateful.”

Weiser said the store — small by current Wawa standards, with a cramped parking lot and worn finishes and facade — “simply cannot deliver the experience our customers deserve.” (Current employees will be transferred to the other Ventnor location.)

Ah, but regulars might beg to differ. The staff at the Wawa, some there for years, was uncommonly friendly, the vibe neighborly. If there was too much water in the street to drive, or the Dorset bridge was blocked off, you could always count on getting to the Wawa in the Heights.

“It’s a somber day at the Ventnor Wawa,” said one employee as he waved through people with free coffee.

“All we have is Wawa,” said a distressed Julian Molina, 54, waiting in the car while his wife went in for some coffee for coworkers. “They take everything. We’re going to miss it a lot.”

He noted that Comcast had also closed an office in the same strip center, forcing customers to go to Mays Landing. There are still a CVS and a new pizza place, and the live-music-loving Ventnor Coffee across the street.

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg / Staff
On its last day, the Ventnor Heights Wawa gave away coffee.

Some on Facebook were resentful of the decision, others amazed at their own strong reactions to the closing of one of Wawa’s two locations in Ventnor.

“So the little hometown market that was Wawa has gone big time corporate and, after the mom and pops are long gone, clears out,” wrote one Ventnor Heights resident in a community forum in which a post about the closing drew 84 tearful emojis.

“I’ll miss you Dorset Wawa,” wrote another commenter.

“I really can’t believe how sad I am about this. Lol,” wrote another.

Still, in Philly and down the Shore, Wawa hope springs eternal, and some regulars were already dreaming that a Super Wawa might set up shop in the Ventnor Plaza on Wellington Avenue, near the Acme Market, complete with gas pumps.

Alas, Wawa corporate spokesman Lori Bruce said the Heights will be without Wawa for the foreseeable future.

“At this time, we don’t have any plans for a Super Wawa in Ventnor at the location you mention,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But we are always looking for new sites throughout our market area, including South Jersey.”

She said the decision to close the Wawa was made after considering whether it was feasible to “remodel, add parking and space needed to support our future food service needs and platforms.”

“It has been our pleasure to service customers from this location,” she said.