ELIZABETH, N.J. -- Wawa Inc. has been racking up milestones over the past 10 months and celebrated yet another this week. The retailer opened its first Florida store in July, its first store in northern New Jersey in January, and on Tuesday, it welcomed customers to its first store in Union County, N.J.
"We are open for business," Jim Shortall, Wawa's director of store operations, said to the standing-room only crowd gathered at the new Wawa convenience store at 595 Spring St. in Elizabeth.
The store, situated on a corner lot fronting the well-trafficked Route 1&9, is the 617th store in Wawa's portfolio and its 239th in New Jersey. While the Wawa, Pa.-based retailer operates more stores in the Garden State than any of its other five states, the Elizabeth location is its second most-northern store.
"We are, in many ways, an outsider," explained Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens. "Although we have more stores in the state of New Jersey than any other state, north of the Raritan River, we are in some ways an outsider."
The retailer is not stopping at Elizabeth, either, in increasing its northern exposure. Plans call for 10 more stores in the northern New Jersey market by 2015 -- including a location in Woodbridge that is set to open in September, followed by locations in Lodi and Hackensack.
By setting up shop in Elizabeth, Wawa has become part of the city's revitalization and will bring 60 jobs to the area. In addition, through the retailer's “Lending a Helping Hoagie” campaign, a portion of the proceeds from the first week of the store's hoagies sales (up to $5,000) will be donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey to help feed residents of Union County.
Wawa is also partnering with two other local organizations -- Josephine's Place and Groundwork Elizabeth -- and will donate $1,000 to support their programs.
New Jersey State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20th District), a lifelong Elizabeth resident, believes Wawa "chose wisely" when it tapped the city as part of its expansion plans. "We have great plans for the development of this entire area and the Wawa family is an integral part of that," he said during yesterday’s celebration.
The grand-opening festivities included a Wawa favorite: the Hoagies for Heroes Competition. The Elizabeth Fire Department faced off against the Elizabeth Police Department, with the police taking home the trophy for building the most hoagies. Both teams' charities came away winners, though. Wawa donated $1,000 to the police department's chosen charity, One Fund Boston, to help victims of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. The retailer also donated $1,000 to the fire department's chosen charity, the Sandy Ground Project, to help build playgrounds in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Click here to view a photo gallery showing Wawa’s newest North Jersey store.