Planned Georgetown Wawa faces community objections

Georgetown's Wawa is proposed for the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Prospect Street NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

In the official announcement of Wawa’s plans to open numerous stores in the metro area, the Pennsylvania-based convenience store’s Brian Schaller offered this enthusiastic statement: “We couldn’t be more excited to begin our expansion throughout Washington, D.C.”

By and large, Georgetown residents and business owners aren’t saying the same.

Wawa announced last month, amid rumors and speculation, that over the next several years it will open 11 stores in D.C. and more in Maryland and Virginia. The city’s flagship Wawa is set to open in December at 1111 19th St. NW, four blocks south of Dupont Circle. D.C. residents with roots farther north have generally applauded the move.

But in Georgetown, Wawa represents the latest in a line of nationally omnipresent chains — including Domino’s, CVS and 7-Eleven — that area residents perceive as threatening to a community proud of its locally owned shops and historic streetscapes. The complaints are wide-ranging for the second proposed D.C. Wawa location, planned for 1222 Wisconsin Ave. NW, just south of Prospect Street.

Some residents object to the store’s policy of being open 24/7 year-round, while others take issue with the planned eye-catching building design. Still others worry that Wawa would degrade Georgetown’s small business landscape.

“Most every resident I’ve spoken to is just appalled by it,” Jim Wilcox of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) told The Current. “They basically think between the 7-Eleven and the CVS, we have enough of that type of venture.”

The building that will soon house Wawa dates back to 1927 and is currently owned by Mike and Bryce Weaver, whose family has owned the hardware store W.T. Weaver & Sons at 1208 Wisconsin since 1889. Mike Weaver told The Current that his family has been in talks with Wawa for more than a year, growing more impressed over time.

“This is somebody who basically hits all demographics,” Weaver said. “From a business standpoint they’re a good tenant because they make sense. They’re a solid company with a solid business plan.”

Weaver comes from a family that’s used to neighborhood transformation, with roots in Georgetown dating back to 1803. Small businesses in the area will continue to struggle, he said, if owners don’t keep contemporary needs in mind.

“You don’t want high turnover,” Weaver said. “You want people that are going to come, add to the neighborhood but also commit to improving the neighborhood.”

At last Thursday’s ANC 2E meeting, residents said they don’t want Wawa to emulate the 7-Eleven that sits two blocks north at 1344 Wisconsin, with windows covered by indoor racks and what they describe as an overall gaudy appearance. ANC 2E voted unanimously to object to several of Wawa’s design proposals for the building, including illuminated awnings covering windows on Wisconsin Avenue and the store’s trademark flying goose designs imprinted on the building.

News that the store never closes prompted what Wilcox called “a sharp intake of breath around the room” at the meeting. But Wawa’s Susan Bratton countered that the store hopes to serve residents who work late-night or early-morning shifts elsewhere in the neighborhood, and to provide a lower-cost alternative to some of the area’s pricier offerings.

“All of our stores operate 24/7/365,” Bratton said at the meeting. “It is done in a manner so that when at any time if someone needs a service we become an oasis for someone at that hour.”

But Wilcox had a comeback: “This may not be a location that needs an oasis 24 hours a day.”

The meeting discussion eventually focused on aesthetic issues as ANC 2E weighed the store’s application before the Old Georgetown Board, an arm of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that deals with preservation of Georgetown’s federally protected historic district. ANC 2E chair Joe Gibbons compared renderings to a “lighthouse,” “a beacon” and “a candle.”

Commissioners also sought more details on loading and trash disposal procedures at the site, given the expected high volume of activity. Agreements on those issues will be reached at a later date.

The Georgetown Wawa and others in D.C. would offer coffee, sandwiches, paninis, wraps, hoagies, soups, sides, custom salads and bottled drinks. The planned self-serve area will offer a high-end array of packaged foods more in the vein of Pret A Manger than Wawa’s suburban locations, a store representative said at the meeting. Wawa has no plans to seek a liquor license for the Georgetown store.

Robert Elliott, who owns the real estate on the north side of Prospect Street from Morton’s near the corner of Wisconsin Avenue to Domino’s off Potomac Street, told The Current that he hopes Wawa doesn’t challenge the appealing environment he has worked hard to construct in that area.

The building proposed as a Wawa convenience store is currently a Restoration Hardware location. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

“This street has the potential to be something very extraordinary. It’s pleasant, it’s tree-lined, it has historic buildings,” Elliott said. “It has four restaurants in a row with outdoor patios, very pleasant, something you don’t find in Georgetown. I would like to see the Weavers’ facade updated to make it more interesting.”

Though he plans to welcome Wawa as a neighbor, he said he would have preferred to see “a high-quality restaurant leading people down that block.” Still, he’s optimistic that the neighborhood can convince Wawa to adopt a design similar in approach to the Apple Store at 1229 Wisconsin. In 2009, Apple went through several rounds of Old Georgetown Board review with designs that the neighborhood rejected as too flashy. Eventually everyone found a common ground.

The concrete structure at 1222 Wisconsin served as office space for its early decades before eventually becoming the fast-food restaurant Roy Rogers and the Key Theatre, both of which closed in the late 1990s. Now the building is occupied by Restoration Hardware, whose lease expires next year.

One comment in Wawa’s favor came from ANC 2E member and Georgetown University student Zac Schroepfer, who offered a rare dissenting view during last Thursday’s meeting. “Students from Philadelphia are very excited about this,” he said.