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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arriving in Orlando, it is easy to see today's grand opening of Wawa Inc.'s first Florida convenience store has many people intrigued. From the rental car manager to the hostess at a local Italian restaurant, the questions ranged from "What is a Wawa?" to "Is it just a gas station?"
Today, the wondering ended as the Wawa on Central Florida Parkway, across from SeaWorld Orlando, welcomed its first customers at 10 a.m. The excitement for the new convenience store has been building for weeks, and two customers even arrived at 1:30 a.m. to be first in line.
"I have never seen anything like this," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. "As you can imagine, I have been to a lot of grand openings, but I have never seen so many people so enthusiastic."
Some in the standing-room-only crowd were already familiar with the c-store retailer and have been waiting for the Wawa goose to make its landing here in the Sunshine State. Peggie Dorman moved from Marcus Hook, Pa., to the Orlando area eight years ago and admitted to missing Wawa. Until now, whenever she traveled back to Pennsylvania, she always brought cases of Wawa hoagies back with her.
"I have been waiting for this for so long," Dorman told CSNews Online.
Fellow Pennsylvania natives Donna Randall and her husband just moved to Florida two weeks ago from Bethlehem, Pa., so they have not had to wait quite long for their favorite convenience store to arrive. While they are waiting for their house to be ready in Winter Springs, Fla., they have been staying with friends in Orlando -- and eagerly anticipating today's Wawa grand opening.
"We drove by every day wondering when it was going to open," Randall said. "One day, we stopped in with our Wawa [coffee mugs] and they were kind enough to fill them for us."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott also shared his personal anticipation for the opening of Wawa's first store in the state. Aside from the thousands of jobs and the boost to the economy that comes along with Wawa's move to Florida, the governor said his youngest daughter went to college in Virginia and lived near a Wawa. His wife fell in love with the coffee and he, the infamous hoagies.
"Everyone has had a Wawa experience," Scott noted.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer had heard of Wawa from his brother who lives in New Jersey -- one of the retailer's core five markets until now -- and was also impressed by what he saw during a visit to the company's Philadelphia-area headquarters. That only fueled his excitement for the c-store chain to set down roots in his community.
Wawa's plan for the Orlando area, as well as Tampa where it will open in 2013, is two-fold. Not only is the company looking to spread its wings, but also to become part of the community. To that end, Wawa will mark the openings of its first five Orlando-area stores by donating a portion of the proceeds from its infamous hoagies to Second Harvest Food Bank, with a donation of up to $25,000.
The new Orlando store is roughly the same size as the company's newest gas stores in other markets, but the open floor plan creates the feeling of a bigger store and the decor -- specifically selected for the Florida stores -- creates the feeling of warmth. The foodservice area anchors the middle of the c-store and is flanked by coffee and espresso on one side, and fountain drinks on the other. The outdoor seating area, something Wawa has not been able to provide at its Mid-Atlantic locations, drives home the emphasis on food.
And what better way to highlight Wawa's commitment to being a food retailer than the hoagie-building contest held today featuring the Orange County Sheriff's Department vs. the Orange County Fire and Rescue. Though both put up a valiant effort worthy of the badges they wear, the men and women of the Fire and Rescue made 42 hoagies, beating the Sheriff's Department's 32 hoagies.