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PHILADELPHIA — Wawa Inc. cut the ribbon on its new flagship store in Center City, welcoming customers two months ahead of schedule.
"The joy we are feeling on this occasion is quite phenomenal," Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens said during the grand-opening celebration Friday.
The convenience store at the corner of Broad and Walnut streets was originally slated to open in late November. However, the construction schedule was accelerated to accommodate customers and visitors to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and the historic visit of Pope Francis next week.
"We opened in record time, 85 days from demolition to today," Gheysens said. "And we couldn't be more honored to welcome the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis. It's been a journey, it's been fun and we still have work to do."
When construction started in June, it signaled the return of Wawa to Center City, and Gheysens couldn't think of a better place to be, he told the crowd gathered inside the store on the Avenue of the Arts.
"Everything that is going on in this great city. It's not just the pope. It's not just the  Democratic National Convention. And we wanted to play a small part in that," the CEO explained.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, however, disagreed with the notion that Wawa has only a small part in the city's events. "Saying Wawa is playing a small part in the papal visit is like saying Michael Jordan may have played basketball," he said.
In fact, Nutter explained that Wawa "was going above and beyond" by providing thousands of meals to first responders during Pope Francis' visit Sept. 26-27.
But perhaps the most exciting news came when Nutter said the city and Wawa expect to serve Pope Francis a Wawa hoagie during his visit.
"I don't know what he likes, but he can have anything he wants," the mayor joked.
Gheysens on Friday also announced the retailer's "Lending a Helping Hoagie" program and its donation to The Francis Fund, a special fund established to help fight hunger in the Philadelphia region. From Sept. 18-28, all six of Wawa's Philadelphia stores, including its new Broad and Walnut location, will donate a portion of proceeds from hoagie sales (up to $15,000) to The Francis Fund.
In addition, the retailer is donating $25,000 to the Philadelphia Education Supplies Fund, a multi-year fundraising campaign to purchase supplemental classroom supplies, including workbooks, paper, pens and pencils.