Philly Deals: Wawa moves into the Sunshine State

Ra Matthews puts freshly baked hoagie rolls on display at the Wawa, which closed for three months to double in size by merging with a vacated deli next door. Cost of the upgrade: About half a million dollars.
Ra Matthews puts freshly baked hoagie rolls on display at the Wawa, which closed for three months to double in size by merging with a vacated deli next door. Cost of the upgrade: About half a million dollars.
Posted: July 20, 2012

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer joined Wawa Inc. bosses Howard Stoeckel and Chris Gheysens Wednesday for the opening of the Delaware County-based chain's first store in the Sunshine State, a quick-turnover smokes-and-Cokes, gas-and-hoagies outlet drawing homesick Philadelphia expatriates and curious natives to Orlando's Central Florida Parkway.

Wawa says it will "penetrate" central Florida between now and late August with two more stores in Orlando and two in nearby Kissimmee, with later sites planned for the Tampa area.

Wawa insists its stores are "filling a void in our new Florida customers' lives," as Gheysens said in a statement.

After long consideration, the privately held chain picked Florida — instead of, say, Charlotte or Pittsburgh — because of a lack of efficient convenience-chain-store competition there, Gheysens told me earlier this year.

Corporate citizens

If corporations were people, Delaware would get another congressman.

It's one of the smallest states, with just 900,000 residents, so few it merits only one U.S. representative in Washington. At the moment, that's Democrat John Carney. As a freshman from the minority party, he doesn't get much of a voice.

But the state is home to nearly a million corporations, limited-liability partnerships, and other "corporate entities," as the boosterish Delaware Department of State calls them — far more than its share on a national basis.

"Corporations are people, my friend," GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney famously said last year.

See also the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision, promulgated by the Republican court majority, which upheld the anthropomorphic idea that "the Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker's corporate identity." That reinforces the notion that businesses are citizens, with free-speech and campaign-donation rights, just like human Americans.

By that logic, a Republican victory in November should lead to the full enfranchisement of businesses, giving Delaware enough bodies — the root word of corporations — for a second House seat for the first time in living memory.

Enfranchising corporations also could revive the two-party system in Delaware, Vice President Joe Biden's home state, where Democrats control national and statewide offices because, as past State Sen. and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Charles Copeland reminded me in Greenville last month, the state's large African-American electorate is at least as registered, organized and heavily Democratic as the Irish-Catholic vote was in John F. Kennedy's day, giving the D's a big edge.

By contrast, business, here as most places (outside New York and San Francisco), trends Republican.

Why is Democrat-run Delaware so popular with business? It's one of a few states with very low incorporation fees and weak reporting requirements (though Nevada and Wyoming were even cozier, last I checked); also because Delaware has a hundred-year record of appointing business-friendly judges to its efficient Court of Chancery. Elected officials of both parties are raised to understand it's in their interest to allow the state's corporate lawyers to advise them on tweaking state laws to suit corporate needs — because they realize the high volume of low-fee corporate business pays a big chunk of the state budget, helping Delaware get by without a sales tax, and with low property taxes.

Corporations are a cottage industry, with specialized law, accounting and banking practices, incorporation firms, and rent-an-address locations. Some are owned by legislators.

Back in 1996, I reported that the Wilmington area was already "home to more corporations than people." Recently, the New York Times caught on, noting that Delaware now has more registered corporate citizens than humans.

So if corporations really are people, maybe it's about time the political implication of what the state has promoted as "the Delaware difference" — its status as "America's Corporate Capital"— earns the First State some extra Washington clout.

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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