Wawa manager Derek Brown is surrounded by has associates as he cuts the ribbon to officially signify the store’s reopening at 13th and west. On hand at far right are Mayor Jay Gillian and Michele Gillian, Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.A funny thing happened on the way to Wawa’s re-opening of the formerly storm-ravaged store at the corner of 13th and West: it had already re-opened.OCNJDaily was the only media outlet on hand at 7:30 a.m. Friday, a half hour in advance of the announced 8 a.m. time for the doors to swing open to the public for the first time since January. The only problem: people were already happily pulling into and out of the parking lot, and they had been since 6:30 a.m.“We had the staff and the product ready,” store manager Derek Brown said. “As soon as we got the green light (from corporate) we opened. It’s all about our customers. It feels more like opening the doors of our home to friends than it feels like (a job.)”Those who entered were greeted with free any size coffee, offered until April 10, festive decorations and a completely remodeled store. The 13th St. Wawa is also offering $2.99 “Shorti” sandwiches and 89 cent fountain soft drinks as part of the celebration, Brown said.Larry Kelly, a 58-year-old retiree who lives nearby on Bay Avenue was typical of the early arriving loyal patrons.“I was headed to a coffee shop and had no idea they had reopened. When I saw that they were open I hung a u-turn immediately,” Kelly said. “I love Wawa. The variety and quality of the food is great, the people working here are friendly and the place is always clean,” he said.Once the unofficial opening had taken place, Brown and his staffers got into the rhythm of the store: replenishing the coffee urns, preparing the Sizzly breakfast sandwiches and helping customers navigate the new layout. There were also plenty of laughs and hugs shared among workers and customers.By the time 8 a.m. finally rolled around, the parking lot was packed.Local marketing expert Aimee Schultz, owner of JASM Consulting at 701 West, said Wawa’s return personally signified “comfort and coming home to it. You know what you are getting and you know what you missed when they were closed. It is a tried and true brand.”At 10 a.m. Mayor Jay Gillian and Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Michele Gillian joined other city dignitaries and Wawa mascot Wally Goose for the official ribbon cutting to re-open the store. At this point, cars were parked more than a block away on West Avenue.Aimee Schultz and daughter Maggie Wallace are thrilled the Wawa at 13th and West has re-opened.Schultz said she was alerted to the opening by her daughter, 16-year-old Maggie Wallace, an Ocean City High School sophomore. Mother and daughter both sported huge grins as they exited the store with their 24-ounce cups of Wawa joe.“I knew they were opening soon, and I knew the Daily would have (the announcement posted),” Maggie said. “I said to my Mom ‘Please…I can be a few minutes late, let’s get our free coffee.”The store was one of the hardest hit local businesses when Storm Jonas struck the Northeast, causing flooding, water damage and other storm damage. The company responded by working almost round-the-clock to create a new and improved Wawa. Upgraded floors, new cabinets and quartz countertops, new food processing equipment and electronic signage are a few of the upgrades.Although Brown declined comment on specifics, improvements were made throughout the building to protect against severe weather in the future, he said. Sources indicated stainless steel had been liberally installed as well as modular walls which can be easily removed, cleaned and re-installed in the event of a flood. The source said there had also been a slight incline built for the floor, allowing any water to drain out quickly.Such details seemed irrelevant Friday, a brilliant day as sunny as the dispositions of those inside the building.“Wawa is thrilled to be able to bring the Wawa experience back to north Ocean City so quickly,” Wawa corporate said in a statement from spokesperson Lori Bruce. “(Wawa is committed) to fulfilling lives with its fresh food and beverages and by making meaningful connections with friends and neighbors.”Sister Joelle Thren of St Damien’s Parish playfully scoffed at a reporter who wondered if she was happy her nearby Wawa was back and ready for action.“Do you really have to ask?” she said with a giggle.Sister Joelle Thren of St. Damien’s Parish enjoying her free cup of Wawa coffee.