CONCORD >> It may have been close to 10 a.m. but the clank of beer bottles in cases and the samples of brew being passed around at the Wawa on Naamans Road gave evidence to a different day.
Joining 160 stores in Florida and in Virginia that sell alcohol, the Concord store at Route 202 and Naamans Creek became the first Pennsylvania store for Wawa to begin selling some brew.
“This is an exciting day for Wawa, for Pennsylvania,” Chris Gheysens, Wawa’s president and CEO, said as he unveiled the 7,400-square-feet store that features a refrigerated beer cooler, where customers can enter to purchase a six-pack or one beer, and 400-square-feet seating for 30 people in a certain section of the store, designated by a small wall.
Gheysens said the company instituted a policy for this store that would allow customers to consume only one beer per person at the site, although they’re welcome to buy a six-pack and take it home.
The executive said that standard was “to make sure that we’re doing all the right things as we learn about this business.”
At this time, he emphasized there are no intentions to add beer to other Pennsylvania locations, mostly due to the seating requirement.
This comes as the state begins to slowly transform its laws regarding the sale of alcohol. At one time, any alcohol – beer, wine or spirits – could only be purchased at state stores or beer distributors, or at restaurants and bars for consumption.
Over time, the laws have begun to be relaxed to include such expansion as beer and wine have become staples at various grocery stores.
Even so, the site of beer tents handing out samples was unique, as expressed by state Sen. Tom Killion, R-9, of Middletown.
“I’m looking outside and I’m seeing beer at 20 of 10 and I feel like I’m back at Penn State gearing up for a football game with a 12 o’clock start,” he kidded.
County Councilwoman and Concord resident Colleen Morrone said she went through withdrawal during the five-week renovation but was glad to see the updated version.
“It’s part of our community,” she said. “Delaware County is home to Wawa ... and we’re very, very proud for Delaware County to have such a great organization like Wawa headquartered here.”
Customers were likewise pleased with their experience at the store.
Paul Reyburn had driven from Ridley just to check out the Wawa with beer.
As he perused the six-packs in the chill of the beer cooler, he expressed his approval.
“It’s great,” Reyburn said. “It’s really convenient. I love it – being able to pull into a Wawa convenience store and get beer as opposed to having to go somewhere and buy it buy the case.”
Matt Alturo of Chadds Ford agreed, as he saw similarities to a store a little farther down the street.
“I think it’s a very good concept,” he said of Wawa offering beer for sale. “It reminds me of Whole Foods, where you go in, sit there and have a beer.”
Lisa Washington is not quite the beer aficionado but her appreciation for the store was rooted in other characteristics.
“It’s beautiful – the whole atmosphere,” she said. “I don’t drink beer but it looks real nice.”
Washington was by the coffee section, where her mom, Loretta Washington, was busy serving customers like Mike Stocklos, who was profuse in his description of the store.
“I think it’s great,” he smiled. “The store actually matches the great personality of the people that are here, people like Loretta.”
Stocklos spoke of how he sees Washington and other employees every morning.
“It’s like a family,” he said. “We help each other, give moral support to each other.”
For that moment, Stocklos was content to have his coffee although he liked that the beer was available for purchase.
“The beer’s good,” he said. “It’s really nice to have the flexibility of having the beer here.”
Deferring any opportunity for tastings by 2SP Brewing Company, Victory Brewing Company, Yuengling and Dogfish Head, Stocklos would have to come back another time for any alcohol purchases. “It’s too early in the morning,” Stocklos said. “Too early and too cold.”
But, the warmth of the employees remained constant.
“It’s just a great combination of people, service and genuine caring for one another,” he said.