By Ron Leir
Last Friday, Kearny gained a new corporate retail presence with the opening of a Wawa food market and gas station at 200 Harrison Ave., just across from the U.S. postal distribution facility, and in front of the Walmart.
It’s the first foray by Wawa into Hudson County and only its second store in northern New Jersey, the other located in Woodbridge, according to company officials.
The retail chain, which has deep penetration in south Jersey, now has 238 stores statewide, and is embarking on an aggressive expansion campaign.
Jim Shortall, Wawa director of store operations, said that, “In the next three years, we’ll have 13 new stores in northern New Jersey,” including one in Elizabeth, one in Lodi and a second Woodbridge store.
Other locations haven’t yet been announced but Shortall said they could include additional Kearny sites, depending on the market.
“We have a heavy concentration in south Jersey but we feel this market (in the northern part of the state) is underserved,” Shortall said. “We feel it’s a good time to expand here and, by the way, in Florida, where we just opened a new store in Orlando.” Aside from New Jersey and Florida, Wawa also has facilities in Pennsylvania (its home base), Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
According to Wikipedia, Forbes magazine listed Wawa as the 47th largest privately-owned company in the U.S. in 2011 with assets of nearly $7 billion.
In the Garden State, Shortall says the company’s chief rival is Quick Chek, many of whose outlets also offer fuel to customers. He calls them “a very formidable competitor.” Quick Chek operates 121 stores in New Jersey and southern New York.
Wawa, Shortall said, invested about $6 million in developing its new Kearny facility, featuring a one-level 5,500 square foot food store and a fueling facility with six pumps that dispense regular gas and two that provide diesel. An on-site parking lot can handle up to 75 vehicles.
How much in municipal real estate taxes the property will generate has yet to be calculated, according to Mayor Alberto Santos.
The food store and gas station will be open 24/7; 40 employees will staff the store and 20 will work the gas pumps in different shifts, Shortall said.
Most of the employees live in Kearny but others come from Harrison and Newark, said store manager Kim Kitchen. Depending on how the business goes, “possibly we’re going to be hiring more,” she added. Initially, she said, employees – all non-union – will be starting at $8 an hour and will be putting in 35 hours a week for a “three month rolling period” before becoming eligible for health benefits.
Chain-wide, about half of Wawa’s 18,000 employees spread among more than 600 stores in six states participate in the company’s corporate stock ownership program, said Sal Mattera, vice president of store operations.
Some items of interest offered by Mattera to last Thursday’s VIP audience included these: Each year, Wawa stores serve more than 400 million customers, brew more than 195 million cups of coffee (or 1,000 cups a day), and assemble more than 60 million hoagies. Wawa service stations “sell 1 billion gallons of fuel a year – or 1.6% of the entire U.S. fuel market,” Mattera said.
“We’re one of the few retailers that don’t add a charge to customer ATM transactions,” Mattera added.
At the new Kearny store, Shortall points out a new kitchen design – modeled after the Woodbridge outlet – allows customers “to see their sandwiches made,” with the option of having “freshly baked rolls.”
The store features terrazzo floors and subway- like bright-colored tile walls.
Fostering a community- friendly approach, Kearny’s Wawa is partnering with three area organizations:
It’s donating a portion of all hoagie sales during its first week of operation, up to $5,000, to Community Food- Bank of N.J. to help fight hunger in the state.
It will make a contribution to West Hudson Arts & Theater Company (W.H.A.T.) for a portion of every ticket sold in 2013, for up to $1,500, to the W.H.A.T. scholarship fund for high school students.
And it is making a contribution to Literacy Volunteers of West Hudson to help promote the teaching of basic English skills to adults whose primary language is something other than English.
Mayor Santos recalled how Kearny worked with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission to rezone a desolate former industrial eyesore to transfer it into what is becoming a “vibrant retail center,” that includes Wawa and, behind it, a Walmart that is currently expanding to include a garden center and supermarket.
Wawa isn’t selling Lottery tickets at the Kearny store. A corporate spokeswoman explained that the chain prefers customer-activated ticket purchases – which it has in its Pennsylvania and Virginia stores – but said that the N.J. Lottery Commission disallows that option in the Garden State.
As an incentive to encourage folks to visit the new Wawa, the retailer is offering customers free coffee for its first 10 days of business. The store’s official opening was last Friday.