Tag: Philadelphia Icons

You Can’t Sit With Us! by Annmarie B Persico

A princess, a boxer, a Phanatic, and a statesman are sitting in a bar eating cheesesteaks and soft pretzels having a Philadelphia Icons party with me.  In walks Edgar Allen Poe…

This pretty much defines how I feel about Edgar Allen Poe as a Philadelphia Icon.

A “City of Neighborhoods”

Yes we are the “City of Brotherly Love” but as a resident Philadelphian I adhere firmly to the belief that we are a “City of Neighborhoods” and Poe does not check all of my “You’re a Philadelphia Icon if” boxes mostly because he isn’t from a neighborhood. He lived here for 6 years and wrote some major pieces of work here, he is undeniably a Literary Icon but as far as I’m concerned Baltimore can have him. I’ve made the argument in class that Poe was using Philadelphia as a launching pad into greatness (aren’t all Philadelphians) but that fact of the matter is he didn’t even live in a section of Philadelphia that was Philadelphia yet.

“Many of the current neighborhoods around Philadelphia existed as separate boroughs, districts and townships in the County of Philadelphia before absorption into the city via the 1854 Act of Consolidation. Before consolidation, Philadelphia’s city boundaries extended only as far as William Penn’s original plan, from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill and from Vine to South Streets.”  Poe’s neighborhood didn’t even make the cut. “Consolidation brought into the city neighborhoods such as historic Germantown in the northwest, formally founded one year before William Penn’s arrival, and the Spring Garden community on the city’s northwest edge.”

Ben said it best, if you’re from the city and you meet someone from the city the first thing you asked is where did you grow up? And if the answer isn’t a neighborhood than you are probably going to doubt their Philadelphia-ness.

“Implicit in the “City of Neighborhoods” dynamic is the intense pride Philadelphians hold about the distinct residential areas comprising this city. Philadelphians love their city but they particularly love those sections of their city where they were born, raised and in many instances continue to live.”

Strike 1 Mr. Poe.

Exposure to your Home-City Icons

When born and raised in a city as wonderful as Philadelphia you are exposed at quite a young age to some ritualistic pilgrimages to places where icons walked and lived. Who didn’t go to the Betsy Ross house, the Franklin Institute, the Art Museum, or a Philadelphia sports game at least once during their Philadelphia childhood? If you aren’t making these pilgrimages yourself, then you are at least schooled in knowing when and where significant events in Philadelphia Icons lives happened.

I’m 25 years old and didn’t even know the Poe House existed in Philadelphia.

Now we can maybe blame that one on a sheltered childhood, or a lack of parental interest in exposing me to Philadelphia Icons properly but I’ve known where Grace Kelly lived, went to high school, and got married since I was 5. My sister changed her parish to get married at the same church as her even though she will never admit it.  I knew Rocky ran up those steps since forever. And I certainly knew that the founding fathers were hanging out writing the Declaration of Independence in our fair city from a young age too.

*Side-note- Poe is definitely a literary Icon and my mom was an English literature major and still didn’t find the need to make me aware of “his” house.

Strike 2 Mr. Poe.

It’s my Party

Grace Kelly, East Falls. Rocky Balboa, South Philly. The Phillie Phanatic, South Philly. Bejamin Franklin, it doesn’t matter he harnessed electricity and was a founding father but we will give him Old City. I could offer my own personal Roxborough Icons that no one would know; mostly because they’re neighborhood people who grew up in and impacted my community while eating Wawa Hoagies and Deli’s cheesesteaks twice a week but I’ll just stick to my claims based on neighborhood pride and exposure to his story that Poe just can’t sit with MY Philadelphia Icons.  Sure it’s a little Mean Girls of me, but who better than a Philadelphian to decide who makes the cut. Not everyone can be from Philadelphia- but my Philadelphia pride just couldn’t take the blow of admitting him to my Icons party.

Strike 3 Mr. Poe




Bobblehead Poe by Lea Millip

When I think of Edgar Allan Poe, it is not his horror stories or dreary personality Bobbleheadthat I think about first, it is the memory of an Edgar Allan Poe bobblehead that sat atop my eighth grade teacher’s desk.  That stupid, freaky, bobbling bobblehead.  It never seemed to stop bobbling and I always felt that it was staring at me.  I originally did not know who the bobblehead was but after we read some of Poe’s stories, my English teacher shameless professed her obsession with Poe and her love for that bobblehead.  As we have been debating whether or not Poe is an American icon, I keep going back to this memory.  It is clear to me, and I assume most people, that Poe is a literary icon.  After all, it was my English teacher who had the obsession with Poe.  My class even went on a field trip to the University of Pennsylvania to watch a production of a few Poe tales.  I am personally not a literature or English fanatic but I do have respect for Poe’s works and think he deserves to be recognized as a literary icon.

Happy POeIn the debate of whether or not Poe is a Philadelphia icon, I make the argument that he is indeed a Philadelphia icon.  I support Philadelphia professor Ed Pettit’s argument in The Great Poe Debate that we remember a writer for their works and Poe’s most productive writing years were in Philadelphia.  Pettit also says that Philadelphia was the “crucible for Poe’s imagination”.  I would say that Philadelphia has been the crucible for many a successful people’s imaginations.  I do not think the quantity of time one has spent in the city is as relevant as the quality of one’s time spent there.  Poe’s time in Philadelphia was quality time.

Back to the bobblehead- it is no doubt that Poe is an icon.  Not everyone gets a bobblehead.  It is the type of icon that requires further investigation.  As previously stated, Poe is a literary and Philadelphia icon under my examination.  But I just cannot seem to let Poe fall under the title of “American icon”.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say Poe did anything wrong, he just failed to make the cut.  I never heard of anyone who admired Poe’s personality or “charm” if that’s what you would like to call it.  His gloomy personality is a main reason why he is not an American icon; I think it is safe to say Americans would rather not feel the way Poe felt or purposely imitate his depression and misery.  However, it seems only fitting that the Poe bobblehead in my old classroom freaked me out.  I think Poe himself would freak me out too.



The Great Poe Debate with Ed Pettit, Jeff Jerome and Paul Lewis, moderated by Grover Silcox



The Poe House and America’s Underdogs by Nicole Thomas

In visiting the Poe house, I found myself most excited to go into the cellar. I saved the cellar for last, and when I got there, I found it to be satisfyingly creepy, but I wasn’t scared, I was fascinated. I found it interesting that the Park Service did not clean the cobwebs on the ceiling. These cobwebs acted as a natural decoration of the cellar and added to that creepy feeling one gets when they think of Poe, especially in the dark cellar where he once lived. The empty house leaves everything up to the imagination, and as someone who is familiar with Poe, the emptiness of the house is the best part. In the podcast of The Great Poe Debate, Paul Lewis, the representative from Boston said something very interesting that really hit the nail on the head: “No city can claim Poe. He is a figure of world literature” (33:46). Poe’s works are so popular around the world, and if he was alive today, I don’t think he would want us to credit his legacy to a certain city. Poe gave his legacy to us, his readers through his mystifying works. Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore should be honored to have been a part of his journey in fascinating and captivating the entire world. Those three cities in particular have an intimate connection with Poe, and should feel lucky to have that connection. Without Poe’s works, The Poe House in Philadelphia would just be an empty house.

In The Great Poe Debate audio, in his opening statement, Paul Lewis (Boston) jokingly says “We know how badly underdogs do in American society”, and then shortly after, Philadelphian Ed Pettit is introduced. Pettit comes on stage accompanied by “Gonna Fly Now” the iconic theme song from Rocky. This made me laugh, and then I found myself realizing that Edgar Allan Poe and Rocky Balboa are very similar. Who would have thought that one of the best writers in the world has something in common with a fictional, Philadelphia native boxing icon? Like Rocky, Poe was just a poor underdog, looking to find his way in the world. Then I began thinking about all the Rosie’s, Wonder Woman, Cowboys in Westerns, the Migrant Mother, even John Henry. So many of America’s icons began at the bottom and rose up from the ashes. They were all underdogs, and we love them for it. There is something so satisfying and rewarding to America about the idea of the underdog. Can this be because America itself started out as an underdog? As a country we have been through so many hardships:  The Industrial Revolution (John Henry), The Civil War (Betsy Ross), Migrating West, The Great Depression (Migrant Mother), The Populist Era (The Wizard of Oz), World War 2 (Rosie the Riveter/Wonder Woman), and we made it through all of them. We fought our Apollo Creed’s (Rocky) and our contemptible publishers (Poe) and we made it out alive (for the most part).

Disappointing look into Poe’s home by Samantha Rae Goslee

Before this class I had never known that Edgar Allen Poe had lived in Philadelphia, that he had rented so many houses here; I never knew he had been so close to my home. Although I’m not a huge fan of poetry, I can still really appreciate Poe’s shorts stories and poems. They give you a good sense of what he was going through psychologically at the time of them being written and finding out that a majority of his most famous works were inspired by my city make them all the more special.

I was excited after learning that we were to visit the Poe house. I was excited in general that there even was a Poe house. My mind started racing on what it could look like, what new information and little secrets his house would tell me that I had never known before. I couldn’t wait to experience how spooky and chilling it would be inside. His writings give you a look into his mind but maybe his house could give you an even clearer view. I planned the trip and decided to bring my little sister along since shes at the age I had first learned about Poe. I was disappointed to learn that she barely knew who he was besides a familiar sounding name, all the more reason to bring her.

My sister, boyfriend, and I were all disappointed by the house. We were all expecting more. There was no furniture, the house was very worn down (but I guess that is to be expected considering how old it is) and there wasn’t very much information besides the general knowledge on the walls when you first walk in. Someones room can tell a lot about a person – the type of things they have up on their walls, the type of furniture they have, the way they organized those things but Poe’s house was bare, it couldn’t tell me anything.

Most of the rooms were normal, I didn’t get any weird vibes from them and I’m disappointed to say I didn’t see any props that the rest of the class apparently saw. My favorite room aside from the cellar was Muddy’s room. If I ever was to live in that house, for whatever reason, I would claim that room in a heartbeat. Even though the sun was shining bright through the windows, lighting up the room, it still had a very haunted feel to it. It may have been the dark, peeling paint, or something else. The cellar was the best part – as soon as you stepped in you got eerie vibes. It was dark, musky, very old and fall apart. It was really neat to experience and view the house that had inspired some stories like The Black Cat and to see the wall where the narrator’s wife had been apparently holed up.I think I enjoy Poe so much because I grew up with my parents taking me to haunted attractions even when I was very little and Poe is a staple in the horror genre.

After visiting the house, doing the reading, and listening to the podcast, I still don’t think Poe is just a Philadelphia icon. Even if most of his most popular pieces were written in or inspired by the city, he only lived here for a little bit and that inspiration is the only thing that could possibly connect him to here more than anywhere else he had lived.

A Yinzer: The Most Unconventional Philadelphia Icon There Ever Was by Elizabeth Yazvac

I wanted to like Rocky. I really tried to get into the film, and to feel inspired as he punched meat and jogged around in gray sweats to instantly recognizable themepittsburghese music. I understand the underdog story, and its appeal (especially in the context of the film’s release coinciding with the country’s bicentennial), but, in the end, Rocky was just… okay.

I went into the movie thinking that I was already at a disadvantage being a yinzer. A yinzer is a stereotypical Pittsburgh native, and I believe that a lot of Rocky’s appeal comes from the classic shots of Philadelphia, and the embodiment of the struggle of “ethnic white” and lower-middle class Philadelphians. I assumed that, by my resident alien status in this city, this was something I was just not going to be able to understand. (Like, for example, the term water ice. If it’s ice, then obviously it is water… )

But after watching the movie and reading the Leab article, especially the sections about the struggle of the ethnic white class, I was struck by the similarities between the quintessential Philadelphian and the yinzer. A yinzer may be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced their, shall we say, charm. I highly recommend watching a few Pittsburgh Dad videos on YouTube to fully immerse yourself in yinzer culture, but, generally speaking, a yinzer is a blue collar worker who speaks with a heavy Pittsburghese accent, bleeds black and gold, loves Donnie Iris (pronounced Dawny Arrris) and puts french fries on everything (see attached image of a “salad” featuring fried buffalo chicken tenders and fries, YUM!, my kind of salad!!). Yinzer takes on an almost pejorative meaning, portraying the idea that these Pittsburgh people lack sophistication, that the off-brand pop they drink and their rundown row homes in the Pittsburgh hills are indicators of their lesser social status. But the rundown row homes are not exclusive to Pittsburgh. In fact, Leab discusses the similarities between many ethnic neighborhoods – “tiny front yard”, “neat but worn furniture”, chintz lamps.


The similarities between a Yinzer and a Philadelphian like Rocky are striking, at least in terms of their lifestyles and economic struggles. No, the comparison doesn’t hold up when the Pens play the Flyers or the Wawas turn into Sheetz on the Turnpike but what’s important are the shared beliefs in making an honest living. The working class spirit is essential to both the yinzer and to Rocky. Both of the groups feel a connection to the American Dream, and both groups were influenced by the bicentennial and the subsequent revival of entrepreneurial spirit and patriotism.

A yinzer is certainly an icon. It has a graphic component (wave a Terrible Towel in the air, drink an Iron City Beer, and put a folding chair with a Pirates “P” emblazoned on it on the side of the road to reserve your tailgate parking spot), which is key to any icon. As Kemp defines an icon, “it has widespread recognizability” and it can move across space and time. A yinzer seems permanently stuck in 1994, clad in a black and gold Starter windbreaker, but that image resonates just as strongly now as it did then. And, in this blog, I have tried to make the argument that a yinzer can also travel through space into Philadelphia. Because what makes a yinzer truly iconic is not a sports team alliances but a spirit that never waivers, even under economic hardship. And this spirit is shared by Rocky, Rocky fans, and the people who live in the City of Brotherly Love.

kroll show

Imagining Rocky as a yinzer rather than an Italian south Philadelphian, and I start to see more of his appeal. An underdog story always resonates with audiences, but an underdog from your hometown who embodies your very personal story is incredibly empowering. And this speaks to the versatility of Rocky, as well as the versatility of the yinzer.

Philadelphia and Material Culture by Ben Barsh

After having our discussion in class about material culture and Barbie’s role in it, I found myself thinking about not so much what Barbie represents (maybe due to my lack of personal connection), but material culture as a whole and how it applies to me personally. A couple of my classmates and myself discussed some of the things we collect when talking about this. I shared that I collect records. While this is true, I failed to fully recognize that I collect something more obvious and apparent.

After our class discussion I happened upon an interview with former tattooer/artist/musician Dan Higgs. In this interview Higgs states “For one of the least material possessions, it seems like tattooing is getting more materialistic.” I thought about my own role in this. I started getting tattooed at the very young age of 14. By 16 I had a handful, and before I graduated high school I was well into the double digits.

Tattoos, and “collecting” them, is something that’s non-material, but in a sense, completely material. You cant hold them, store them, or preserve them. On the contrary, they actually only guaranteed to get worse with time. They also cost money to apply, but have no value in money or actual use, unlike almost any other collection in the world.

Material culture is something that’s driven by self definition and what the things you collect do and say about you. In that sense, tattoos are completely material. They’re something born out of vanity, in its basic form. They mark an experience, or say something about you. Whether it be that you fit in here, don’t fit in there, believe in this, or alteration for the sake of alteration. Unless they are forcibly applied against will, tattoos are something that define those who wear it.

The first time I ever got referred to as a collector of tattoos was by my friend Ronnie Dell’aquilla. After getting tattooed as a young teen for the reasons tattoos would appeal to a young teen (I’m cool, I’m different, I’m tough, Girls will like it, etc…) I started pursuing tattooing with more specific definitions and boundaries. I primarily sought old timers, people who have been tattooing since before it became more mainstream. Especially those from the east coast.

Ronnie is a straight forward old Italian guy from Brooklyn, his words aren’t minced and offending people doesn’t bother him. While he was tattooing me, he took a break to talk to his wife in Pennsylvania. I remember clearly him saying “Yeah hon, I’ll leave Queens in about an hour, I’m tattooing this kid from Philly, nice kid, collector of tattoos” I was confused about what he meant at first. I thought I was just some guy getting a tattoo. I then realized, in a sense, I wasn’t. I was somebody pursuing something specific, pursuing multiple variants of it, and pursuing it with some intention of status. And that’s what drive’s material culture.

Attached image is Ronnie. He usually wears his sunglasses indoors.

In the Shadow of Rocky by Meredith L Pymer

If you are not familiar with the 2006 movie, Invicible, I would start off with its trailer which can be viewed via this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF7EqnYvuGw

While Rocky was debuting on the big screen in November of 1976, Philadelphians were watching the real rag to riches story come true on the Eagles’ football field. Vince Papale, a thirty-year-old teacher at the time, became a wide receiver and member of special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles. Papale was the oldest rookie, excluding kickers, in the history of the NFL to play professionally without having a college football career. In many ways the ordinary Philadelphian boxer being portrayed in theaters, embodied the new rookie of the Eagles, even gaining the nickname ‘Rocky’. Rocky and Papale even shared the same age, both in their 30s, and considered out of their prime for physical competition.

By 2006, Papale’s story was told on the big screen. Invincible, set in 1976, retold Papale’s story and shared many aspects that could also be found in Rocky. For example both stories embody the chaos during the 1970s as well as take place in South Philadelphia (I included an image of a typical Philly doorstep in Invincible and immediately was like “That’s so Rocky”). Rocky portrayed the scandals of Watergate, the War in Vietnam, the Oil Crisis and Affirmative Action in the distance, typical of the historical time period.

However, Invincible takes up issues of unemployment. Papale actually looses his job within the movie, a teacher turned bartender, and even deals with his wife leaving him, disgusted of his professional failures… Sound familiar? While watching TV it is broadcasted that the Eagles will be holding open tryouts. This eventually leads to Papale gaining a spot on the team, hence the rag to riches mentality that reflects the movie Rocky.  The movie even goes to imitate a special moment where Rocky remarks that the Bicentennial poster doesn’t depict the actual shorts he is wearing. Mr. Jergens responds that it doesn’t really matter. Similar to Rocky, Paple remarks that his name is spelled wrong on his Eagles’ locker. The equipment manager tells him, “Nothing personal, but is it really going to matter.”

Personally, I prefer the Papale’s version of the rag to riches commentary, that you too can have the American Dream. However, I would have to argue that Papale himself is not an American icon, which leads me to wonder why isn’t he? I think the icons are strongly embedded into our culture when a sense of myth or anonymity comes into play. Rocky isn’t an actual person, he is fictional, and like Barbie is fluid enough in his identity that Rocky can embody everyone. Unlike Papale who has a face and an actual real life story to tell, Rocky is a figment of our imagination. Even you can run the Art Museum stairs, turn back towards the city and for that moment feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment.

Just like in Rocky where he is portrayed as a bum, and told he could never be a good boxer, Papale reads this note from his former wife before she leaves him.

I mean… this might be stretching it, but those stairs are so familiar… Rocky much?

The Humble Steak Sandwich by Michael Vecchione

The humble cheesesteak. Something as simple as a three ingredient sandwich (that can even be reduced to two ingredients) has been a Philadelphia icon and food staple since its inception. According to Scott Ferguson, writer for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and author of “Philly’s Flavorsome Fight,” the cheesesteak we know today was the creation of Italian immigrant Harry Olivieri. Ferguson states that in 1930 Olivieri, a hotdog vendor in South Philadelphia, “went to a local grocery market to purchase some beef…sliced up the beef, grilled it with some onions, and placed it on a roll” (Ferguson 1). The story continues claiming that before Olivieri could try his new creation a passing taxicab driver asked to purchase it. Olivieri agreed to the sale. As an extremely satisfied customer, the cab driver advertised how delicious the steak sandwich was. Word of the sliced-beef wonder quickly spread throughout the city of Philadelphia. A customer base was created. Demand that a steak sandwich become part of Olivier’s regular menu was so high that, “In 1940, the Olivieri brothers opened up Pat’s King of Steaks in South Philadelphia” (Ferguson 1). Since its 1940’s opening, the establishment has served countless Philadelphians and numerous tourists visiting from around the country and the world.

The cheesesteak is undoubtedly a Philadelphia icon. A search on VisitPhilly.com for Philadelphia restaurants produces a list of food categories with one dedicated exclusively to, and adequately named, “Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks.” This category boasts a list of over twenty cheesesteak venders in the Philadelphia region. Also, visitors of the website are provided with a definition of a cheesesteak, a protocol on how to properly order a cheesesteak and the history of the iconic sandwich. Since its inception in 1930, the steak sandwich has evolved significantly, Ferguson claims that cheese was not added to the sandwich until twelve years after Olivier sold the first. Along with cheese, the sandwich can be customized with a variety of other toppings to suit the customer. Popular topping possibilities include mushrooms, onions or peppers. Competition to be dubbed the most desired cheesesteak in the city is high, with a winning restaurant ranked each year by Philadelphia magazine, the region’s leading magazine for area events and business reviews. A day touring Philadelphia, and the attempt to immerse oneself fully in Philadelphia’s culture, would not be complete without a taste of an authentic Philly cheesesteak. It is this attribute that places the cheesesteak among other Philadelphia icons including Betsy Ross, the Liberty Bell and Rocky Balboa. Unlike the ongoing debate on who makes the best cheesesteak in the city, there is no debating the significance of the cheesesteak in Philadelphia culture and its iconic status.

Ferguson, Scott. “Philly’s Flavorsome Fight.” Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Summer 2008. http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Cheesesteaks.html.

The irony of the film “Rocky” coming from a city of Quaker by Janelle Janci

Rocky is arguably one of the most iconic sports movies of all time. Rocky, played by Sylvester Stallone, is a fighter. He’s gruff and tough, hulkish and able to take a punch as well as dole one out. One of the main points that the movie hinges itself on is Rocky proving his worth through his masculinity by fighting.

However, it’s incredibly ironic that this violent (albeit iconic) film is born from a city of Quakers, a group of people known for their pacifist beliefs.

When tourists are running up and down the art museum steps and posing with flexed arms and a dopey grin, they could probably see Billy Penn perched atop City Hall if they squint enough. While we’ll never quite know how Penn would feel watching people flock to his city to perpetuate the image of a violent fighter, it’s a humorous juxtaposition nonetheless.

For those of us non-Quakers, most of our introductions to the image of a Quaker likely came from a cylindrical container of oatmeal. (While it may be a stretch to call the oatmeal logo itself a Philadelphia icon, the image of a Quaker man no doubt has Philadelphia ties, as I’ll explain.) The Quaker man was actuallythe first registered trademark for a breakfast cereal, secured in 1877. However, the Quaker oats company didn’t have a religious affiliation to Quakers. Rather, the image of a Quaker was chosen to represent “good quality and honest value,” according to the official history on Quaker Oatmeal’s website.

(Side note: If you’ve bought oatmeal recently and noticed the Quaker man looked a little different, it’s because designers made him lose weight in an updated version of the logo.)

Historically, the Quakers are a form of Christianity that formed in the mid-1600s. The religion itself is called the Religious Society of Friends, and “friend” and “Quaker” are synonymous to people within the religion’s community. (Source) Philadelphia is a huge piece of Quaker’s history, with William Penn himself identifying as one. On quakerinfo.org, there’s an entire page dedicated to information on historical sites for Quakers in Philadelphia alone. While Penn didn’t settle in Philadelphia immediately, Philadelphia became a very important location for the Quakers – it’s the home of the oldest and largest yearly meeting of The Society of Friends. And hey, since sports are the one true way Philadelphia shows affection, a hockey team, a football team and a baseball team were even named “Philadelphia Quakers.”

According to the BBC’s historical page on the Quaker religion, promoting pacifism and non-violence are very important to Quakers – making the fact that “Rocky,” a film about a man who makes his livelihood on very non-pacifist activities, is a Philadelphia movie absolutely ironic.

Wawa and the Making of Icons by Ali McCarron

Convenience stores are not designed to spark fierce loyalty in their patrons. They are supposed to be interchangeable; customers pulling off of the road and stopping at the first bright lights they see for some cheap coffee and snacks or to fill up their tank. In Philadelphia, this is not the case. Many Philadelphians live and die by Wawa.

To those from outside the area, or even (ugh) Sheetz lovers, this fanaticism is seen as bizarre. In parts of the Northeast, Wawas are informal boundaries between neighborhoods. People make countdowns to the annual Hoagiefest event and buy commemorative tee shirts. Several of my friends’ senior year summer shore houses in Wildwood, New Jersey had giant Wawa banners hanging, spanning two walls. When I came home from my semester abroad, my first meal, driving home from the airport at midnight, was a Wawa hoagie.

The undeniably strange name may throw off non-locals. Wawa is named after the Wawa Dairy Farm from which it was created in the town of Wawa, Pennsylvania. The town was named after the Ojibwe word for the Canada Goose, which has been featured on the logo of the store since its inception. Wawas are found throughout the East Coast, mainly focused in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, with stores reaching as far as Florida.

Most Philadelphians are, admittedly, obsessed with Wawa. Yes, it is super convenient – free MAC machines, fast ordering of food on touch-screen systems, actually good, non-suspect, convenience store deli counter food, and basically any Philadelphia-based junk food you could ever want (except maybe water ice) in one place – but I’m not convinced that convenience, or even deliciousness is the reason for Wawa’s iconic status in Philadelphia.

It seems to me, the same way Philadelphians gravitate toward Rocky as a unifying force, his spirit being something distinctly “Philadelphian” as well as American, is very similar to the way Philadelphians react to Wawa. Wawa is something that makes the area unique; our love for Wawa has more to do with that and the sentimentality of being able to walk into any Wawa or see the yellow lights and know that you are somewhere familiar, than the sum of all its awesome, convenient parts.

Wawa’s are found throughout the city, but it is certainly worth noting that the establishment quickly moves out of an area that they view as on the decline, which usually means in minority areas. For example, the Wawa I frequented in Wissinoming on Harbison Avenue changed over several years ago to a Quick Stop location, which coincided with the changing demographics of the area. The immediate area surrounding Temple has a great number of convenience stores, but no Wawas in sight. According to Wawa.com, the closest Wawa to Temple University is in Fairmount, which, while still North Philadelphia, has a vastly different population than other areas of North Philadelphia.

While I am sure the decision on where to build or maintain Wawas is certainly an economic decision that factors in crime rates, which could eat into the profit margins as well as detract from the safe, family-friendly atmosphere that the corporation has attempted to maintain, it is certainly interesting to look at. This information illustrates the question of who exactly makes an icon? Those within minority, lower-income, “dangerous,” neighborhoods do not have a Wawa to obsess over and elevate to iconic levels. Defining and shaping an icon requires both power and opportunity, and the placement of Wawa locations helps to elucidate that point.