Wawa Slowly Expanding Beer Sales in Pennsylvania Amid Challenges
High-priced liquor licenses and in-store seating requirements are among the speed bumps.
WAWA, Pa. — Wawa will expand its number of convenience stores that offer alcohol in Pennsylvania by adding up to 10 new beer-selling stores this year, according to CEO Chris Gheysens.
The retailer's number of stores with liquor licenses within the state is small compared to other markets such as Virginia and Florida, where all Wawa locations offer beer for sale. State liquor law is the primary differentiator, as Pennsylvania requires c-stores to purchase a restaurant liquor license, which in turn requires a store to offer seating.
Prices for Pennsylvania restaurant liquor licenses also start at approximately $100,000 and can go for several times higher, compared to markets where Wawa can acquire liquor licenses for hundreds of dollars, Gheysens told the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Wawa locations expected to add beer sales in 2022 include an upcoming store in 8053 Chestnut St. in Hereford, Pa., that has applied for a liquor license, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Existing Wawa c-stores with pending alcohol sales are located at 579 N. Lewis Road in Royersford and 600 N. West End Blvd. in Quakertown.
Gheysens noted that a handful of Pennsylania locations already sell beer, including Wawa stores at 2608 Chichester Ave. in Boothwyn; 1139 Horsham Road. in Horsham; and a stadium-style store at 2600 Penrose Ave. in Philadelphia.
Wawa first began selling beer in Pennsylvania in February 2017 when it reopened a renovated store in Concord, as Convenience Store News reported. Located at the intersection of Naamans Creek Road and Concord Pike, the rebuild added a whole new section of the store so that beer sales were separate from the rest of the location.
Gheysens told the news outlet that another challenge in Pennsylvania is the fact that liquor licenses are not uniform throughout the state; prices vary significantly from county to county. The arrival of other retail stores that want to sell alcohol also drives up prices.
"From an economic perspective [it] isn't quite viable," Gheysens said.
He also noted that integrating liquor licenses into Wawa stores is a matter of addressing a customer need, as many people will visit a Wawa store to buy a hoagie, then visit a different store nearby on the way home to buy beer for their meal.
The upcoming beer-selling Wawa stores are part of a strategy that is "just beyond test" in maturity, Gheysens told the Philadelphia Business Journal. The challenge of adding alcohol space to existing stores means Wawa does not plan to fully roll out beer sales or the store model that facilitates them. Instead, beer sales will largely be restricted to new-store concepts.
Earlier this month, Wawa announced plans for the "most aggressive growth" in company history through which the c-store operator will nearly double its store count over the next decade. This includes new stores to mark its entry in North Carolina and up to 40 locations in the Southeast, plus stores that will "fill in the market" between Virginia and Florida.
Pennsylvania-based Wawa operates nearly 1,000 c-stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C.