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Wawa countdown: a matter of months

Cultlike followers from the land of Wawa are close to getting their fix.

The popular Philadelphia gas and convenience store chain named for a wild goose has a half-dozen stores under construction around Orlando slated for a July 18 opening and a half-dozen more locations lined up in the bay area to open by this time next year.

Locally, construction starts this spring at locations on Gandy Boulevard in Pinellas Park; the site of a former Giordano's restaurant in South Tampa; at Starkey and Ulmerton roads in Largo; and at Bloomingdale Avenue and U.S. 301 in Hillsborough County.

Wawa is assembling the sites to double that quickly.

For the uninitiated, Wawa combines its mega-filling stations with C-stores four times the size of a 7-Eleven. Staffed by 30 people, each Wawa features made-on-site deli hoagies, gourmet coffees, fresh-baked goods and groceries 24/7.

While many 14- to 20-pump filling stations treat food-to-go as an afterthought, Wawa, which is leapfrogging into Florida after covering the mid-Atlantic with 600 locations, gives takeout and dashboard dining top priority.

"We're a food retailer first," spokeswoman Lori Bruce said.

Avon Calling. Grossman staying. After news spread last week that Mindy Grossman was being recruited for the top job at struggling Avon Products, the chief executive who steered HSN back to health wrote a note assuring her 250 top executives that she is not leaving the TV shopping network.

Repair and prayer. Another chain of auto repair shops that promises white-glove customer service is setting up shop around Tampa Bay. Christian Brothers, which sports waiting rooms equipped with hardwood floors, free Wi-Fi and leather easy chairs, opens the first of four area stores this week in Land O'Lakes. Belleair Development is building a second one in Westchase that opens in three months. Others are planned this year for Riverview and Wesley Chapel.

Mechanics in the nine-bay repair centers can handle anything from an oil change to engine replacement.

Founded 30 years ago in Houston, the 97-store chain took its name from born-again founder Mark Carr's decision to create a faith-based business that injects Christian values in the world of lug nuts and grease monkeys.

Beyond a Bible tucked among the magazines in the waiting room and not being open Sundays, Christian Brothers is an equal opportunity employer that does not proselytize on the premises, says vice president of development Josh Wall.

However, one of nine criteria for prospective franchise owners is a stated preference for evangelical Christians.

Broader sighting. The executive who transformed Kash n' Karry Food Stores in Tampa into Sweetbay Supermarket, Shelley Broader, continues to rise. She was recently named president of Walmart Canada. Facing a new challenge there from Target's purchase of 189 Zellers stores, the world's largest retailer is handing her $750 million to pour into upgrading and expanding its 375-store network north of the border.

Tempered outlook. K.C. Conway, executive vice president of research for Colliers International in Atlanta, cautioned local retail developers not to get wide-eyed about the speed of the industry's recovery.

"I suggest you get all your deals done before the political conventions this summer," he said in a talk to the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Retailers may be talking about more retail space, but lenders aren't. Too many banks remain undercapitalized."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Wawa countdown: a matter of months 02/20/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 20, 2012 8:06pm]

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