Ben Mercer said it’s not so much the sandwiches and gas that will bring him to the new Crystal River Wawa. It’s the electric vehicle recharging stations for his Tesla.

“This is perfect timing,” said Mercer, who just moved to the city.

Word will get around among Tesla drivers, he said.

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The new Crystal River Wawa opened Thursday morning at 505 NE U.S. 19, at the corner of State Road 44 and U.S. 19. As one would expect, there were big crowds. 

The store offered free coffee, free Wawa T-shirts and lots of smiling faces from store staffers and chain officials on-hand for the festivities.

The store is the first to open in Florida with electric vehicle charging and marks the 50th such charging site in the Wawa chain. When store officials finished the ribbon-cutting of the store, there was a separate one held near the eight chargers.

The road configuration at the heavily traveled intersection was a concern to city officials when Wawa first proposed building back in 1997. It still is.

“We will definitely be keeping an eye on it,” Crystal River City Manager Ken Frink said.

Motorists can access off U.S. 19 and two-lane Northeast Sixth Avenue.

The store, he said, will be a boon to the tax base and it cleans up the intersection from the unsightly mess it had become.

Frink said the city and the Florida Department of Transportation will monitor traffic at the site and suggest modifications if needed.

Given the upheaval in the nation last year — from riots and the pandemic — he was afraid Wawa would back out from building this new store.

“It’s been a long road and we were very concerned they wouldn’t complete the project,” Frink said. “We’re very appreciative they were able to bring the project to completion.”

The 24-hour store has 73 parking spaces and 16 gas pumps.

“I’m glad that Crystal River got (this Wawa),” said Scott Pierce of Beverly Hills, one of about 100 people who attended the opening. “It’s good for Crystal River and gives people jobs."

Pierce arrived early for a free coffee and an egg sandwich.

He admits that the increase in traffic may be a problem but is hopeful it will work out.

Dave Filano, director of store operations for Wawa in Florida, said boat and large-vehicle parking is available to accommodate tourists and locals who enjoy the area’s water sports.

“We’re so close to the water, that’s ideal,” Filano said.

Filano said “you couldn’t ask for a better location” than the corner of State Road 44 and U.S. 19.

Tyson Siler of Crystal River had been driving to the Lecanto Wawa to get gas because he loves the chain.

“(This new store) is literally two minutes from my house,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this. I’m a pretty big fanatic.”

Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek told the crowd he is pleased to welcome Wawa’s investment in the community. He praised Wawa for doing its homework before coming here.

“Thank you for your investment,” he told the crowds. “We really appreciate it. This intersection is very important to Crystal River and you guys did a great job.”

The project was delayed due in part to placement of a 20,000-gallon underground storage tank. Construction finally began in October 2020.

Wawa opened its first Citrus County location in May 2019 at the southeast corner of County Roads 486 and 491 in Lecanto. 

Filano said there are no plans yet to open a Wawa in Inverness.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com. To see more of his stories, visit  tinyurl.com/y6kb23vv.