“There’s a saying,” said Ernest McCarter ’24, waiting in the crowd for his order at the Wawa convenience store on Alexander St. “Every good night ends at Wawa.”
On the night of Friday, Sept. 25, the store was crowded. Groups of students congregated by the door or sat by the drink refrigerators, waiting for orders and talking to friends. In the kitchen, Wawa employees moved quickly. The lone cashier checked out each customer one by one.
Katie Horan ’25 and Daniel Tan ’25 waited by the registers for their orders, chatting.
“Drunk meal was closed,” Horan said. “And I really want some mac and cheese right now.”
“I really want a sandwich,” Tan added.
Wawa, for many Princeton students, is more than just the location of a late-night snack run. It’s a staple of Princeton night-life — a place to go after a night out on the Street or in Firestone library. Especially at the beginning of the year, as everyone adjusted (or readjusted) to campus life, the small convenience store at the south end of campus hosted many intoxicated students.
“There’s a social scene attached to it,” said Althea Dulany ’25. “You can go with your friends, you can see unexpected people throughout the night.”
“It’s a good source of food, and it’s open 24/7,” said Danica Truong ’24, standing with her friends by the lottery machine. “This late at night, you get the drunk munchies.” At 1 a.m. on this Saturday, Truong’s view seemed to be a common one.
Yet many who arrive at Wawa intoxicated don’t show the same coherence.
Saachi Singh ’24 recalled her experience at Wawa on the night of Friday, Sept. 17 as one of chaos.
“There was a line outside, they kind of had ... limits on who could come in,” she said. “There was a P-Safe officer.”
That night was the first during which an eating club, Colonial Club, opened its doors to all students.
Students who recounted the scene at Wawa into the early hours of Sept. 18 described it as disorderly. Drunken students, in a long line for one cashier, failed to even swipe their credit cards to make a purchase. An officer from Public Safety (PSafe) was eventually called to control the crowds.
For many students, this unruly behavior at Wawa raised concerns about the welfare of the employees.
“I’ve yet to come to Wawa when it hasn’t been packed with people,” said Stephen Padlo ’25. “They need more staff.” On the nights of these interviews, the store had one cashier station open.
“I sort of feel bad for the workers here,” said Daniel Barnett ’25. “They’re definitely dealing with … a lot of drunk students.”
Other students also raised concerns about drunkenness.
“I can imagine that if you’re working here and you’re dealing with inebriated students, you often get the poor end of the stick,” Horan said. “But I think sometimes students are really, really kind.”
Dhruv is an employee at Wawa who asked to withhold his surname. He has been working as a cashier at the store for almost three months. Dhruv is 22 years old, the same age as many Princeton juniors and seniors.
“Sometimes, some people are just drunk,” he said, when asked about the Princeton students who come into Wawa late on weekend nights. “And it’s understandable, you know, they’re kids.”
The turnover rate for employees at the Princeton Wawa has been high as of recently.
“I’ve definitely seen some people who just started working here, they’ve left earlier,” Dhruv said. Some employees, he said, have lasted less than a month.
On some recent nights, Wawa has closed the touch-screen terminals available for ordering food and restricted orders to its mobile app due to large quantities of orders. Other nights, the store has stopped taking orders entirely. Students sit against the drink refrigerators and wait a long time for their orders. Large groups stand by the kitchen, staring at the cooks preparing their food.
Singh told The Daily Princetonian she felt bad about the conditions for Wawa employees.
“I can tell the employees here get very overwhelmed,” Singh said. “I just talked to a few of them, and they’re always overwhelmed.”
Dhruv also raised medical concerns as another reason for Wawa’s high turnover rate, worrying about the health and safety of Wawa employees, essential workers, during the ongoing pandemic.
Wawa, as a private enterprise, does not follow the University’s current mandate requiring mask-wearing indoors for patrons. Employees, however, are required to be masked. Many students were maskless on the nights that these interviews took place, coughing and sneezing.
With the spread of the “Princeton Plague” this semester and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some students expressed displeasure with this behavior, which puts Wawa employees and members of the public at higher risk for infection.
“I feel like it’s not that hard to be polite,” said Lucia Brown ’25.
Yet despite these concerns, it doesn’t appear that Princeton students are planning on changing their Wawa habits anytime soon — or that other options even exist.
The University normally runs two establishments serving food on weekend nights: the Frist Food Gallery (popularly known as “drunk meal”), open in the Frist Campus Center on Sundays from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Studio 34, located in the basement of Class of 1967 Hall in Butler College.
Since the start of the pandemic, Studio 34 has been closed. The University has not announced when it will reopen. At least for now, Wawa remains the only location on campus where students can go to eat late at night on any night — and in the months since the commotion of September, it continues to bear the brunt of students’ nocturnal cravings.
To Dhruv, it’s not a problem if students keep coming. “As long as everyone gets helped, everyone gets what they want from their work,” he said.
Still, some students are unsatisfied with the service from Wawa. “They should have a discount for Princeton students,” said Singh.
“Retweet,” added Lucia Heminway ’24, agreeing with Singh’s statement. “I give out a lot of business.”
Gail Samuel ’25 disagreed: “Wawa workers … see some shit, every day, at like 2 a.m.,” she said. “I don’t really think they owe us anything.”
Adam Sanders is a contributing features writer for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.