Finishing touches going into place on new Wawa minimart in Leesburg

A highly popular minimart that recently experienced a large-scale data breach appears close to opening a new location in Leesburg.

The new Wawa at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 441 and Griffin Road is quickly taking shape and starting to look like one of the chain’s typical locations. The latest addition was the large sign out front that will display fuel prices.

The new Wawa at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 441 and Griffin Road in Leesburg is quickly taking shape and starting to look like one of the chain’s typical locations.

Gas pumps haven’t yet been installed and the roofing covering the pump area isn’t yet in place. But the interior portion of the large facility appears to be nearly completed and ready for a soon-to-be announced grand opening, where customers can most likely expect to take part in the Wawa tradition of enjoying free coffee for 10 days.

Wawa’s original goal of opening before Christmas, which was announced at Leesburg Commission meeting in July, didn’t come to fruition for the store, which is located on property that once was home to a large Citizens First Bank branch and a historic Sonny’s BBQ location. At the time, the steel to build the structure was scheduled to arrive in early August and area residents were promised a great bit of activity on the site, which has been happening on a daily basis.

The steel frame of the Leesburg Wawa at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 441 and Griffin Road was erected in August.

The Leesburg Wawa will become the fourth store within a short drive of The Villages. The first one, located in Oxford at the corner of U.S. 301 and County Road 466, opened in November 2017 with the promise of other locations to follow.

The second store, which was shrouded in controversy and approved by a split Lady Lake Commission, opened in July at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 27/441 and County Road 466. That location displaced the local landmark known as “The Castle,” which was a longtime icon in Lady Lake serving as home to Affordable Lock & Security Solutions.

An employee tries to keep cars moving in an orderly fashion in August at Wawa on U.S. Hwy. 27/441 in Lady Lake.
Members of The Villages Public Safety Department took part in a Heroes hoagie-building competition against Sumter County sheriff’s deputies in September during the grand opening of the Wawa location at 13535 U.S. Hwy. 27/441 in Lady Lake.

The third area Wawa opened in September at 13535 U.S. Hwy. 441 in Lady Lake, not far from the Sharon L. Morse Medical Building and the soon-to-be UF Health The Villages Regional Hospital. That store, the second one in Lady Lake, hosted a Hoagies for Heroes hoagie-building competition pitting Sumter County sheriff’s deputies against firefighters and paramedics from The Villages Public Safety Department.

Wawa has also made a huge splash in Marion County, holding three groundbreaking ceremonies on the same day in September 2018. Those three stores opened on the same day in April, with a fourth location opening the following month and another also coming online in Belleview.

Ocala, Marion County and Wawa officials officially broke ground on one of the first stores in Ocala in September 2018.

Wawa’s corporate office announced last week that the massive chain, which is highly popular in the northeastern portion of the country, had experienced a large-scale data breach. A company spokesman said the payment information of customers who had used a debit or credit card at any of the chain’s more than 850 stores since March had been compromised.

Wawa officials sent letters to customers – many of whom were understandably upset – saying they discovered malware that was capable of capturing customers names, card numbers and expiration dates at both the inside pay stations and the gas pumps. They said the breach had been in place since March 4 but did not affect debit card PINs, credit card security codes or driver’s license information that was obtained when verifying age-restricted purchases like alcohol.

Wawa is a privately held company that began in 1803 as an iron foundry in New Jersey. Toward the end of the 19th Century, owner George Wood took an interest in dairy farming and the family began a small processing plant in Wawa, Pa., in 1902. The milk business was a huge success, due to its quality, cleanliness and “certified” process. As home delivery of milk declined in the early 1960s, Grahame Wood, George’s grandson, opened the first Wawa Food Market in 1964 as an outlet for dairy products. Wawa adopted the Canada goose in flight as its mascot.

Ocala Lions Club member Estelle C. Michaelson poses with Wawa mascots Shorti and Wally Goose during a September 2018 groundbreaking ceremony.