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Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick spent an afternoon in Holland as a Wawa employee to connect with community members

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

For experienced workers at Wawa, the lunch rush is nothing. At the chain’s location at 236 Holland St. in Holland, everything runs like a well-oiled machine from the time the customer orders to when they check out. Even throwing a congressman behind the sandwich counter doesn’t slow down the process.

On Aug. 24, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick spent his afternoon in the shoes of a Wawa employee as part of a National Association of Convenience Stores In Store event where elected officials can immerse themselves in the daily experiences of the communities they serve.

At your service: Brian Fitzpatrick’s appearance was a National Association of Convenience Stores In Store event. The mission behind these is to educate elected officials on the importance and impact of the industry on the country while allowing them to interact with their constituents. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

Over the years, the convenience store industry has become a staple in our society. People rely on it for gas, coffee, a quick bite while on the go and lottery tickets. According to NACS, the industry is comprised of more than 154,000 stores nationwide and serves 160 million customers daily, which is half of the U.S. population.

A fixture in Americans’ daily lives, convenience stores are a critical component of the nation’s economy with stores in every congressional district. In 2016, the industry employed more than 2.7 million workers and generated $549.9 billion in total sales, according to NACS.

With locals relying so heavily on convenience stores, Wawa seemed like the perfect place for Fitzpatrick to truly understand their thoughts, feelings and concerns.

“What better place to meet with constituents — my bosses — then at the local Wawa at lunchtime?” he said. “It’s all about connecting with as many constituents in as many ways as possible to learn about the issues important to our community.”

Upon entering the store, Fitzpatrick was taken on a tour by a group of managers and employees to show him the day-to-day operations. While checking out the freezer section and milkshake machine, the congressman gathered information on topics such as the impact of the soda tax on business, an explanation on how products are delivered and labor issues he should be aware of.

Hoagie haven: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick spent the afternoon in Holland in the shoes of a Wawa employee. He learned how to work the register and make sandwiches, all while interacting with customers and employees. SAMANTHA BAMBINO TIMES PHOTO

After a brief tour of the break room, Fitzpatrick emerged sporting the traditional black Wawa employee shirt and baseball cap. He then went through “training” on how to work the register and saw firsthand the fast-paced sandwich station.

“It’s my first day,” he admitted to one customer before he got the hang of things.

According to Jeanne Eichinger, Wawa’s Sustainability and Government Relations Communication Specialist, Fitzpatrick’s visit had a threefold mission behind it — to get him out in the community, help him relate to the daily activities of his constituents and experience firsthand the issues of local businesses so he can address them.

“He’s so young, so the more exposure he gets will only benefit him,” she said.

Though this was the first NACS In Store event at this particular Wawa location, the association hosts these throughout the country to educate elected officials on the importance of convenience stores. These representatives fight for laws that help or hurt local businesses, so NACS believes it’s vital they are fully informed of the impact of the industry on the U.S.

A few examples according to NACS: The average convenience store collects $1.16 million in taxes for local, state and federal governments. With more entrepreneurs than virtually any other industry, more than 97,000 stores are mom-and-pop operations. In addition, 78 percent of convenience stores nationwide support at least five charities in their communities and 83 percent have been involved in charitable giving for over 10 years.

At the end of the day, convenience is what consumers want. Now that Fitzpatrick understands that just a little better, he can knowledgeably advocate for the industry if it’s ever needed. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com