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JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The convenience store industry had Carolina on its mind in 2011 as several companies expanded their footprint in North Carolina and South Carolina last year. In 2012, however, the industry's attention traveled further south to Florida.
Wawa Inc. drew the most attention for its entry into the Sunshine State. The Pennsylvania-based retailer previously limited its footprint to the Mid-Atlantic region -- namely New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. This summer, Wawa opened the doors to its first Florida store, located across from Sea World on Central Florida Parkway in Orlando.
The grand-opening celebration attracted officials from across the state, along with area residents eager to get a glimpse inside a Wawa. While many of those residents were transplants from states where Wawa has a huge following, others were just discovering the convenience store retailer.
Wawa will open six stores in Orlando this year and begin opening convenience stores in the Tampa market in the new year. Between the two markets, the retailer plans to open 20 stores in 2013, 25 in 2014 and 25 more in 2015. Projections call for 100 stores in the Orlando and Tampa markets in the next five years.
As outgoing CEO Howard Stoeckel put it, "Florida is our future."
RaceTrac Petroleum Corp. also made waves in Florida this year. The Georgia-based retailer opened one of its new RT6K prototype stores in Poinciana, Fla., around the same time that Wawa was introducing itself to the Orlando market -- 36 miles away. More RaceTrac prototype stores are currently under construction in Osceola County and Kissimmee, Fla.
Not to be left in the cold, Thorntons Inc. debuted its first Florida convenience store in Clearwater earlier this month. According to Thorntons, the new location is the first of 15 to 20 new stores that it will open in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in the next three years.