It’s Thursday morning in Rahway, New Jersey and there’s a caffeinated buzz in the air.
A lanky, tow-headed, 20-something year man with a name plate that reads, ‘WILLIE’ has a wide, welcoming smile. He greets me with an unexpected Southern drawl and shuffles to his left. His flat backside bangs against a heavy glass door that he holds open for me.
I saunter pass Willie and inside a large, cool, clean, well-lit store filled with red-shirt wearing individuals rushing to serve strangers warm baked goods. I see a long, hot coffee self-service station to my left and a cold beverage self-service machine on my right. In between, I stand for 5 minutes and tap instructions on a red touch screen. I avoid eye contact with obnoxiously-happy coffee makers waiting for this potentially job-killing kiosk to spit out a ticket describing my complicated beverage order.
The happy coffee makers (no baristas here) call out my receipt’s number after a few minutes and hand me my coffee. I take my first sip of the day. My coffee’s delicious. My mood improves. I learn that my coffee and everyone else’s is free today. Suddenly, my smile matches Willie’s.
This… is… Wawa.
Wait?! What’s a Wawa?
Wawa is a chain of convenience stores and gas stations like 7-Eleven. Store #8389 officially debuted in Rahway, NJ on Thursday. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. led by Rahway’s mayor, Raymond Giacobbe, Jr. The Grand Opening began two hours earlier.
Wawa, has an unbelievable cult following. Devoted fans tattoo the store’s Wally Goose mascot or the store’s logo on their bodies. As witnessed in Rahway on Thursday, some patrons and staff members from other locations “never miss a Grand Opening”. Some fans get Wawa vanity plates on their vehicles. Even a former Presidential candidate love his “Wawas”.
The American chain may have met its match, however, against unusually unimpressed Rahway residents as they and their town experience growing pains.
What is Rahway?
Rooted in blue-collar beginnings, Rahway residents has seen its city’s population increase 22 percent between 2010 and 2017 according to the US Census. Priced-out New Yorkers like myself (my next-door neighbor, and our neighbor across the street), have flocked to this small New Jersey city with stops on two of NJ Transit’s rail lines. Rahway offers direct access to New York City, Philadelphia and Jersey’s shore towns all within 1 hour.
Attorneys, doctors and their families are moving to the former gas station town where glaziers, brick layers, and operators of the city’s Merck chemical plant once dominated. With hundreds of apartments sprouting up within the city’s quadrants, even some blue-collar families have seen their fortunes grow along with the population.
According to real estate development blog, Rahway Rising, the 3.6-acre property on which Wawa sits, was purchased over a year ago from Rahway-based Giacobbe and Sons Contractors for $2.3 million. With the Wawa property purchase, and purchases throughout Union County, the family business that employs Rahway’s mayor, went through a recent name change according to Bloomberg: Giacobbe Investment Corp.
How about those Rahway residents?
“Considering the mayor made $2 million plus from that Wawa, I’m not surprised to hear he will be cutting the ribbon.”-Rahway resident and motorcycle enthusiast, Melissa Olund
When Rahway residents aren’t gossiping or complaining, we’re debating. Some Wawa visitors audaciously contested which was better: Wawa or the QuickChek four blocks away. There was even a debate over who entered the newest Wawa first.
Rahway resident Cheryl Donovan said, “My little girl got to be the first customer through the doors when it opened at 8. She is telling everyone she sees.” Emma, age 6, beamed as she held her mixed berry parfait and her mother’s hand.
However, according to a Wawa General Manager and another witness, Mr. Steve Cohen, another Rahway resident, was first in line and received his free coffee: A large, 24 oz. French vanilla. Hot. Black. No sugar.
Despite the day’s deliberations, there were two things I and other Rahway residents agreed on and appreciated: Wawa’s helpful staff, and the free coffee.
As she sprinted out into the parking lot, Philadelphia Eagles fan, Lori Drew said, “The staff in there is great! I was in there twice and everyone was smiling and helpful. Free coffee ‘til Monday!” She holds her coffee up in the air and gets on with her day.