You know you are from Pennsylvania when you prefer Hershey’s Chocolate to Godiva, you can give directions to Intercourse with a straight face, and have cut off family members for being on the “wrong” side of the Wawa vs. Sheetz feud.
A little background…
Wawa is a chain of convenience stores operating in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. The company’s corporate headquarters is located Chester Heights, Pennsylvania (Greater Philadelphia Area) and, as of 2008, Wawa is the largest convenience store chain in Greater Philadelphia. It is also, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the third largest retailer of food in Greater Philadelphia, after ACME Markets and ShopRite.
Sheetz is a chain of convenience stores owned by the Sheetz family. Its headquarters are in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Their stores are located in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Convenience stores may be a dime-a-dozen in some parts of the country, but these Pennsylvania chains transcend the typical gas-and-go mini-mart. There has been a longstanding rivalry between the regular patrons of Sheetz and Wawa, with each side maintaining deep loyalties to their favorite store.
Pennsylvania is spelled with a T
The tribal loyalties Pennsylvanians have toward Sheetz or Wawa may be vocalized in terms of quality of products and services but, in my opinion, it more represents a social division between the people of Pennsylvania.
Have you ever heard of the “Pennsylvania T?” James Carville, political commentator and media personality, once said, “if you drive 45 minutes in any direction, outside of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, you would have a hard time telling the difference between Pennsylvania and West Virginia.” Of course, the reason for that may be German settlers from Pennsylvania founded large portions of West Virginia, but discussing that takes me off topic.
Regardless, what Carville was referencing is what is known as the “Pennsylvania T,” the area of Central and across Northern Pennsylvania. Politically, socially, and culturally, the “Pennsylvania T” is much like “Flyover Country,” America’s Heartland between the America’s two major urban clusters, the Northeastern Megalopolis and Southern California.
The “Pennsylvania T” is very rural, and her people have a much more Midwestern or “red-state” sensibility. They are salt of the earth people, who have or had made their living from farming, lumber, coal, oil or gas production.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, on the other hand, are more representative of a “blue-state,” being more economically and culturally diverse, and more politically liberal, both economically and socially.
Fast Food vs Fresh Food
Sheetz and Wawa both offer competitive fuel pricing, self-service beverage stations and made-to-order food. While their menus have some crossover, the differences are apparent. Sheetz has “Shwings,” “CinnaShmonster” and “Shmuffins,” while Wawa has hoagies and “hot-to-go bowls.”
Sheetz has the larger menu, but Wawa has the fresher, healthier menu. Sheetz’s “Made-to-Order” menu includes fast food-type options including burgers, french fries, and chicken wings. Wawa’s offers fresher and healthier options that include things like grab ‘n go strawberries with cream, made-to-order barbecue chicken quesadilla, and even lobster bisque .
However, Wawa is focused on the more a fast paced lifestyle. You go to Wawa to get in and get out. Sheetz, on the other hand, have many locations that allow one to sit, slow down, and enjoy. Their styles are very reflective of the areas they dominant.
We have all heard the term Identity Politics, political arguments that focus on the interests and perspectives of groups which people identify. Identity politics includes the ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations. These social organizations are based on things like race, class, religion, ideology, and culture.
Sheetz and Wawa have created intense brand loyalty by, to some extent, incorporating the social identity of their patrons into their brands. Wawa is a little more Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Sheetz is a little more Country.
The ultimate divide is not of quality, but one of culture. Sheetz patrons may see Wawa as a reflection of “Suburban Snobbery” and “Urban Elitism,” and Wawa fanatics may be viewing Sheetz as a catering to “Country Bumpkins.” The idea may is not too far from the truth, because each company’s success, much like each of our political parties, has been a result of catering to their base.