Just north of the site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight 120 years ago, “Wally” the Wawa goose is gearing up for take off on its first flight into North Carolina.
Not only did officials from the Pennsylvania-based convenience store chain officially break ground Friday at the corner of U.S. 158 and Fourth Street in Kill Devil Hills, with plans to open in early 2024, they laid out more details about a rapid expansion effort that will stretch to the I-95 corridor.
“Our groundbreaking event gave us the opportunity to meet new faces and share with our new markets a little bit about our history and what makes Wawa such an ideal fit for communities in North Carolina,” said Kim Dowgielewicz, Director of Store Operations in Virginia and North Carolina.
Along with unveiling of the store’s design renderings and “COMING SOON” sign, more than 150 attendees received gift bags that included Wawa Kites, Wawa North Carolina T-shirts, and a got a Taste of Wawa with free coffee, bakery items, pretzels, and refreshers.
And the company made donations of $3,000 each to the Coast Guard Foundation morale and wellness initiatives and North Carolina Special Olympics for the 2023 Summer Games in Raleigh.
“Why not?!?” Dowgielewicz replied when asked why they chose northeastern North Carolina for their first foray into the state. “We’re a family (company), and we heard from so many locals about the Outer Banks being a family, and for us it was a natural transition.”
It also helps that Wawa’s current footprint across southeastern Virginia has steadily expanded over the last decade.
“There’s the connectivity to our current Virginia market from a proximity stand point,” said Lori Bruce, Public Relations Manager.
The visitor market of the Outer Banks matches that of Wawa’s traditional footprint, and coupled with the company’s growing popularity with residents when they travel north also helped seal their decision.
The Greater Outer Banks will be getting the first two locations in the Old North State, with construction beginning soon in Elizabeth City.
Groundbreaking and opening dates have not been set for the site currently occupied by Pier 17 restaurant at the corner of Ehringhaus Street and Halstead Boulevard.
And there are reportedly discussions underway for a possible location in Moyock, but company officials remained tightlipped about anything beyond what they announced at the Kill Devil Hills groundbreaking.
Wawa officials plan to announce this fall they will next head into Wilson and Greenville, with a goal of opening 35 stores in eastern North Carolina over the next five years.
Founded in Pennsylvania in 1964 and based in Chester Heights, Penn., Wawa now has 1,000 stores in six states, including Virginia, D.C, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Florida. And they will soon break ground on a store near Mobile, Alabama.
The stores have an almost cult-like following of their large fresh foodservice selection, including Wawa brands such as custom prepared hoagies, freshly-brewed coffee, hot breakfast sandwiches, specialty beverages and an assortment of soups, sides and snacks.
Each store employs up to 40 workers, according to Jay Ratcliffe, Area Manager. Plans are to open with at least 20-to-30 employees at the Kill Devil Hills store.
Forbes.com Ranks Wawa as #24 of America’s Largest Private Companies in 2021, #12 on Forbes 100 Halo List in 2022, #1 in the convenience category of Newsweek’s “America’s Best Retailers” list; and Forbes’ List for America’s Best Companies for Veterans.
Their location just off the Chesapeake Expressway in the Edinburgh section of Chesapeake has become a popular stopping point for Outer Banks travelers and commuters.
Site preparation at 1900 North Croatan Highway, at the corner of U.S. 158 and West Fourth Street in Kill Devil Hills, began last fall.
Kill Devil Hills commissioners gave final approval in May 2022 to a roughly 6,000 square foot store, with 52 parking spaces and 8 gas pumps across North Croatan Highway from the Target that opened earlier this spring.
Concerns were expressed by nearby residents about the addition of a Wawa to their neighborhood in the Avalon area of Kill Devil Hills. The developer plans to erect a shadowbox-style fence as a buffer at the rear of the property.
An initial request for a direct driveway connection to U.S. 158 was denied in the planning process. Town zoning regulations require corner lots along Croatan Highway to connect driveways only to the side street, and a variance was denied by the KDH Board of Adjustment.