VENTNOR — Starting Friday, there will be one less place to get a good cup of coffee in Ventnor.
The Wawa at Dorset and Calvert avenues is closing its doors for good at midnight Thursday, Sept. 28. On Wednesday, the store gave away free cups of coffee and sheet cake as a thank-you to its loyal customers.
Philip DeFabio, of Ventnor Heights, said he has gone to the Wawa every day for 31 years to buy The Press of Atlantic City. On Wednesday, he said he would take advantage of the free-coffee offer.
“It gets me out of the house,” he said. “It’s very sad because it gives me a great feeling coming here and seeing people every day. I always get a couple of hellos from the employees and people I know. It’s a very friendly store, and I’m going to miss it.”
DeFabio said he would drive to the other store at Ventnor and Little Rock avenues to get his daily dose of news.
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Like DeFabio, Ellen Loughney, of Egg Harbor City, who works in Atlantic City where there are no Wawas, said she doesn’t know why the company would close such a busy store. Between the two Ventnor Wawas, she likes the service at the Dorset Avenue store more.
“The parking is not as good, but the people who work here and the customers are so friendly. Someone always holds the door open for me. It’s just one of those neighborhoods,” she said.
Wawa call center analyst Timothy J. Lemoine said closing the store was “bittersweet” and that making the decision to close a store is “never easy.”
“While this was a difficult decision to make, we have conducted careful and extensive evaluation and determined that this store simply cannot deliver the experience our customers deserve,” he said.
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Mayor Beth Holtzman said she learned in speaking with management that the smaller Wawas can no longer deliver the company's expanded product line.
“We are not the only one. They just closed several in the Vineland area," she said.” In Atlantic County, a Wawa at Tilton Road and Hingston Avenue in Egg Harbor Township closed in April.
The company owns 750 stores in six states, and nearly 500 of them have gas stations now.
Holtzman said she has not heard anything about Wawa Inc. looking for a site in the area to build a Super Wawa with gas station.
“It’s sad, but I hope someone buys it and makes it a convenience store like it was when it was the Dorset Market,” Holtzman said.
Before the Wawa was built, the Dorset Market faced Dorset Avenue, and before it was a market, it was a gas station.
“I still remember the sound of the screen door squeaking,” she said.
Nevertheless, Holtzman, who lives in the Heights, said that like the Dorset Market, the Wawa had a homey feeling.
“It’s more than just a place to get coffee. It’s like a family and the employees know you on a first-name basis,” she said. “And the corporation is very loyal to their employees.”
All of the store’s 20 employees have been transferred to other locations.
Gregory Merrill, of Egg Harbor Township, was the store’s assistant manager for two years. He has been transferred to the Little Rock location.
“We all got to pick the stores we wanted to work in, and for some of us, it’s closer to home or an easier commute,” he said. “They made extremely reasonable offers to us.”
Dorset Avenue resident Karen Sullivan, who’s worked at the store since 1998, said she’s the longest-serving employee of the Dorset Avenue store’s staff.
“My heart is hurting, but still the corporation takes care of its people,” she said. “They made sure every one of us was taken care of. They even helped me during Hurricane Sandy and gave me $400 gift cards. Wawa takes care of their own.”
She will also work at the Little Rock store.
“When one door closes, another opens,” she said.
Emilio Flores, of Pleasantville, said he would go to the Egg Harbor Township store, which is closer to his home.
“But I prefer being here. This was the second job I ever had, and I’ve been here four years,” he said.
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Terry McInaw, of Ventnor, who works in the Margate Wawa on Washington Avenue, said the town is going to miss the Wawa experience.
Michael Einwechter, co-owner of Ventnor Coffee just blocks away, said his store offers coffee, but not all the convenience items Wawa sold.
“It might help us a little, but those who go to Wawa for milk, bread or cigarettes won’t come to us,” he said.
Nevertheless, he and his wife, Christine, will be opening up earlier and are considering expanding their product line to include breakfast sandwiches.
“We’re thinking of opening 5:30 or 6 a.m. for the people leaving the island for work,” he said.