People who came to the groundbreaking for the new Wawa convenience store coming to the corner of Fowler Street and Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers learned two things about the company.
The company has a plan to become a community fixture, and it sures know how to throw a party.
People arrived at the groundbreaking to see clappers on their seats and plastic work helmets and T-shirt giveaways in the back.
The celebration then moved to the Harborside Convention Center downtown for a more specific presentation and community luncheon with area business leaders and dignitaries.
Wawa, a convenience store chain with more than 650 locations nationally, including 44 in Florida, broke ground on three locations set to open next spring, including one in Cape Coral on the corner of Del Prado Boulevard and Pine Island Road.
Chris Gheysens, president and CEO of Wawa, said after opening stores in the Orlando and Tampa areas over the last two years, it was time to aggressively break into the fertile Southwest Florida market.
"We made a commitment to come in big and bold. Three is just going to start what will be many more," Gheysens said. "The demographics, population and there are many who know the brand, it think it will be successful here."
Gheysens expects to open as many as 12 stores throughout Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties in the next few years, with the possibility of more.
Many of the dignitaries, such as County Commissioner Brian Hamman and State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto got up to express joy over Wawa coming into the community.
"When I was a kid we never had anything like this, so it's nice to have variety and see the area continue to grow and it's nice to be a part of that," Hamman said.
There was plenty of swag for those who attended the event, which gave them an opportunity to see renderings of what the store would look like inside and out.
After the ceremonial turning of the dirt on a rainy day, it was off to Harborside, where Gheysens spoke further on the store's mission before handing over a $5,000 donation to the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
The Cape Coral store was great news to city officials, as it gets a big-name store at one of the city's biggest intersections.
"It's a great enhancement to the city. We are welcoming them with open arms. It's multi-functional, there will be other entities, and we're excited to have them here," Cape City Councilmember Lenny Nesta said.
Each store brings in money and jobs. Gheysens said Wawa commits at least $6.5 million to open a location through jobs, real estate, etc. Once opened, each location brings in between 40 and 50 jobs.
"We are such a food-centric business model, we rely on a unique supply chain and we wanted to come to a state where we can build hundreds of stores so we can build it the right way," Gheysens said.
Some of the items Wawa offers includse gasoline, fresh-made hoagies, coffee, iced and frozen beverages, and surcharge-free ATMs, among other things.
Wawa opened its first convenience store in 1964 after decades in the dairy business, and has grown to employ more than 22,000 people and serve more than 400 million customers annually.