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'Store Wars:' A third player in state rivalry grows in Altoona

Pennsylvanians are no strangers to rivalries that halve the state: the Steelers or the Eagles, the Penguins or the Flyers and Sheetz or Wawa. Around Altoona, the answer is usually Sheetz, but there's a third convenience store company moving into town.

ALTOONA -- Pennsylvanians are no strangers to rivalries that halve the state: the Steelers or the Eagles, the Penguins or the Flyers and Sheetz or Wawa.

Around Altoona, the answer is usually Sheetz, but there's a third convenience store company moving into town.

"As long as I can remember, Sheetz has been everywhere," local Dawn Bidoli said.

After all, that is the local saying, "There's a Sheetz on every corner."

Melissa Wolfe agreed, saying, "No matter where you go in town, there's a Sheetz."

Sheetz has been a household name in Altoona for decades, growing since 1952. Since then, hundreds of stores have spread outside the city into the surrounding states.

"I would call it like a landmark. It's been here forever," Beth Wombacher said.

Jolene Gerlac said that it's more than a gas station. She remembers that, as she grew up in Blair County, she always relied on Sheetz.

"You could always hit it on the way home from school, now on the way home from work. They're everywhere," Gerlac said, adding that her favorite thing to grab at the store is a salad.

Those are common perspectives here on the Western side of the state, but Wawa fans tell similar stories on the Eastern side, fueling what some call a Pennsylvania tale as old as time.

Pittsburgh filmmaker Matthew Frdig has set out to end the rivalry once and for all.

Fridg is directing a new film called "Sheetz vs. Wawa: The Movie." The advertisements show a split outline of Pennsylvania with the words, "We settle this here. We settle this now."

According to the film's website, sheetzvswawa.com, Fridg is a Pennsylvania native and is "keenly aware of the unique rivalry."

Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that the movie is missing what he called "the real winner," Rutters.

Although it might sound foreign to some in Altoona, it's not a new company. It's been in York since 1747.

"We expanded from the agricultural roots and got into the beverage and dairy business in 1921. It expanded into restaurants and later opened the first convenient stores in 1968," Chief Customer Officer Derek Gaskins said.

During Rutters' 50th year as a convenience store, Gaskins said the corporation is expanding out of the York and Harrisburg regions.

He said that new locations are coming to West Virginia and Maryland, but several are popping up right in Sheetz neck of the woods.

The first local Rutters opened last summer on 764 in Duncansville. The borough is set for a second location, and a new Pinecroft location is also on its way. Right in Sheetz hometown, Rutters plans to flip the old Kings on Sixth Avenue into its first Altoona store.

"I think Sheetz has been around for so long that it was nice to have a little bit of a change-up, somewhere else to go and something different," Justin Baker said.

Rutters has already been competing with Sheetz in its home region for years, but Gaskins said they're ready for some more friendly competition here.

"As we have our steady growth, it's only natural that we bump into these world-class players, be it Speedway, Sheetz, Wawa, Royal Farms and some of the other brands," Gaskins said.

When asked about its new neighbor, a Sheetz spokesperson, Nick Ruffner, sent a statement saying in part, "We enjoy the friendly competition that we get from all of our competitors in each of the six states Sheetz operates in today."

Customers around town said that they're excited to see Rutters arrive and keep Sheetz on its toes.

"There's nothing wrong with healthy competition. I think it keeps things more interesting for business. It helps to stimulate the economy with more jobs in the area too," Joshua Matt said.

Jacob Marlin and Lee Fink both said they'll be choosing Rutters over Sheetz now, but others said that, no matter how good Rutters might be, their hometown loyalty draws them to that classic red roof.

"I'm partial to Sheetz," Bidoli said.

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