Late last week, indoor seating was removed from the Wawa on Broad Street near Walnut.
Also last week, there were two stabbings at the location — one outside the store, and another inside.
Chatter in the store suggested the two events were related. However, a Wawa spokesperson denied the connection.
“For some time, the chairs we removed from Broad and Walnut have created congestion and caused challenges during peak traffic periods,” Lori Bruce, Wawa’s public relations manager, told Billy Penn, “and we’ve removed them to allow for better customer traffic flow.”
Congestion may well have been an issue — the seating was often taken up by people experiencing homelessness anyway, said a store employee on Tuesday afternoon — but the timing of the change left the distinct impression on staff that it was enacted in response to the stabbings.
An employee at the register on Tuesday said he arrived for work at Broad and Walnut the morning after the more recent stabbing, and all the chairs had been removed.
Representatives from corporate had arrived on the scene, the employee said he was told, and word among staff was that in addition to making seating changes, they had also discussed the option of closing the store overnight — instead of keeping up its 24-hour operation.
According to Joseph Alkus, a criminal justice professor at Temple, removing seating is a pretty standard response to repeated crime.
“It is not unusual for a store owner to remove something if they feel that the object is a catalyst for criminal activity,” Alkus told Billy Penn. “If the seating was causing undesirable elements to congregate in the store, then it may be a reasonable approach.”
Customers can still stand at the three Wawa counters. They’re still there — just without the barstool-style chairs. One of the three counters was lowered, perhaps to make it wheelchair-accessible.
The change at Broad and Walnut goes contrary to the company’s recent focus on creating a welcoming, cafe-like atmosphere.
When the Broad and Walnut location was announced back in 2015, it was praised for its plans to include indoor seating, which was “unique among Wawa locations.” In fact, the crowd present at the announcement “cheered loudly” at the mere mention of seating.
Seating has recently become a cornerstone of Wawa’s plans for the future.
In the last few years, the convenience store has set up chairs in its new locations at 19th and Market, in Delaware County and in Washington D.C. And in the new flagship Wawa — to be built near Independence Mall around Thanksgiving — there are plans for “cafe seating” and “comfortable couches.”
As of this writing, seating has not been removed from the Wawa at 19th and Market, per Bruce, and officials don’t plan to remove chairs from any other future locations.