The College Park Wawa, a store that has become a staple of convenience for downtown visitors and a mainstay that fed hungry city bargoers for years, will close Sept. 30, employees at the store said over the weekend.
The news comes to the dismay of many of the store's regulars, who found its location in the College Park Shopping Center off Knox Road as convenient as its 24-hour schedule. Its closing also comes as a surprise for students; even store managers were not informed until last Monday, said a cashier who spoke on the condition that she not be named because she didn't have permission to talk to reporters.
"It's going to break my heart," said senior communication major Lauren Ryback. "It's much more than just a store."
While many downtown stores were closing, Wawa became the go-to place for late-night food, with its wide offering of subs served on toasted Amoroso rolls - the same bread used in Philadelphia cheesesteak shops. But it was as much a place to socialize as it was a convenience store that served great sandwiches, senior education major Cassie Rotto said.
"What are we going to do? Let's go to Wawa!" Rotto said she and friends would often say.
"It's like a landmark for us," Ryback added.
It was still unclear last night why a store that boasted some of the busiest cash registers downtown would close so suddenly. Had the dozens of potato chip bags that inebriated student vandals popped open and left store employees to clean up every weekend night finally taken their toll?
A corporate Wawa spokesman and managers at the store offered no immediate explanation and landlord JBG Rosenfeld Retail could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Although Wawa has gained a reputation for its late-night culture, its central location has also been a point of frustration for university and city officials. When crime peaked last school year, police moved to place patrols outside the store's doors, discouraging students and leering, shady characters from loitering near the door.
University officials also moved back the Shuttle-UM stop last school year after officials became concerned that the crowd around Wawa on Friday and Saturday nights was becoming too large and unmanageable.
Students, however, said they will remember the place as a beacon for late night reveling - but also for its rowdy atmosphere.
Sophomore finance major Lindsay Riebel recalled a night when she waited half an hour for intoxicated strangers to buy sandwiches for her and her friends, and recalled frequent catcalls from the clientele.
"I'm from New Jersey, so it's like a piece of home," Riebel said. "I'm really going to miss that."
Although Wawa's customer service department confirmed that the company will close its College Park location, the store offers no indication that its days are numbered. Earlier this week, managers removed a short-lived sign that advertised the store's upcoming departure, which was done to prevent a public outcry, said cashier Ian Turner, a junior computer science major.
Turner said after the store closes, he will apply for a job with Campus Recreation Services. Other employees will be moved to other store locations, a spokesman said.
Turner said that he and other cashiers have been informally letting customers know of the closing. But most who had not already heard the news reacted with disblief.
"Everyone with the munchies will have to find a new place to go," said junior criminology major Diana Samata.
But not all students are so attached to the Wawa.
"It's a store," said aerospace engineering graduate student Adam Beerman with a shrug.