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This week, Wawa will thrown down untold piles of dollars (and a 4.5 ton hoagie) and create even more goodwill for itself by being the branded-in sponsor of the Welcome America festivities, all but one of which take place in Center City. But this, of course, flies in the face of the fact that, besides Welcome America, Wawa doesn’t have much time for Center City these days. Over the last few years, most Center City Wawa locations have closed, as the chain has aggressively opened more locations in the nearby suburbs. It’s hard not to feel like it’s a slight: Most Philadelphians have grown up on Wawa, and view the Wawa hoagie as a kind of natural birthright. That they’ve all but pulled out of downtown in these last few years but continue to use the city as one of their principal annual branding opportunities kind of feels like that long-ago white-flighted cousin who’s always going on and on about how great the city is: If it’s so goddamned great, then why aren’t you here?
One of the few locations that remain is the Wawa at 1038 Arch Street, and it’s not just an aberration in that it’s a Wawa in Center City Philadelphia. It’s also fucking filthy. Like, disgusting. Part of this is because it’s hard to keep anything clean underneath that Chinatown bus overpass (poor Dim Sum Garden, you are so great and you deserve so much better than this); part of it is because it’s a living metaphor for Wawa’s real attitude towards Center City. It would rather not be here and it’s just sort of biding time until it can withdraw completely. Security guards check their cellphones while the homeless wade in and out, openly panhandling in the store as tourists and those who live and work in the area dodge them. One of the doors seems to be permanently locked. There is a prevailing negative vibe and a chaotic sense that anything could happen here at anytime. It’s sort of like that Dave Chapelle skit where he goes to the Internet like it’s a real place. In fact, we’re not always 100% percent sure that it’s still even a Wawa, but rather, one of those Ghost Wawas like the one at Second and Catharine. It’s a place we don’t understand, and by gum, it’s a place we sure as hell don’t like.
Is there a Place You Can’t Understand in Philly? Some nook or cranny that makes no sense whatsoever? Let us know about it at tips[at]philebrity[dot]com.