Visiting Soon-to-be Closed Post Offices in the United States

As the death march of the United States Postal Service continues, Evan Kalish of Going Postal blog is doing his best to visit and document the post offices that are slated to be closed. So far, he's visited 2,745 post offices in 43 states.

This one above is in Junedale, Pennsylvania, and sadly it has a common tale:

The town is just south of Hazleton, which itself is near the intersection of Interstates 80 and 81 in northeast PA. This was a meaningful visit for me; there was a local resident in the office who detailed to me the story of the beautiful landscaping in front of the post office.

Three years ago this post office looked very different. A local Boy Scout earned his Eagle Award for providing community service. What did he do? He fixed up the front of the post office and made it beautiful.

First up: You see the trees and roses out front? This Eagle Scout planted them. The rock gardens? Also his work. If you look closely, you can see a bench right below the sign between the trees. Guess who built it! Yep, he did. He donated the new Junedale Post Office sign as well. Isn't it fantastic?

By my understanding, the final item was to extend the flag pole. Literally, he made it taller. Why? The Postmaster told me that it's because the flag used to drag on the roof of the post office. Now it waves without interference. (It wasn't windy when I arrived there, so we couldn't really see it in action; but we can see how it clears the roof, right?)

This is one anecdote that demonstrates the social importance of the post office to small communities such as Junedale across the country. Even though it's the only business in town, residents sure take pride in it. Outside the post office, when I was taking these photos, I told a resident "I hope you can keep this office open." Her response: "We do, too."

Rural communities across America are experiencing the indignity of being exposed to boilerplate 'public meetings' wherein they're basically informed that the decision has been made to close their post office. According to a resident I asked outside this post office, the public meeting felt canned and the residents felt the decision had already been made to close their office. This story was repeated to me in small towns all across Pennsylvania this weekend. Every single time I asked, I got back the exact same response.

Closing a local post office, especially in rural towns, can have repercussions far beyond just having to drive a bit further to another facility to send your mail - these post offices are often the heart of the community, sort of a de facto town center where people connect with each other.

The sad part? Even closing all of the local post offices aren't going to come close to solving the financial woes of the USPS. Josh Sanburn of TIME Magazine explains:

"Closing post offices has almost nothing to do with the financial problem that the postal service finds itself in today," says Hutkins, founder of savethepostoffice.com. "Virtually nothing. The cost of operating these post offices and the amount of money that will be saved by closing them is minuscule in the context of the budget of the postal service and the deficit that it's running." [...]

By the USPS's calculations, closing all the 3,650 post offices up for review would save just $200 million, or 2% of the deficit of about $10 billion. But it would also eliminate thousands of jobs. "This is a problem I really struggle with because it seems so irrational," Hutkins says.

Links: Going Postal blog and How the U.S. Postal Service Fell Apart over at TIME

Previously on Neatorama: USPS Rescue Plan: More Junk Mail! | US Postal Service: Is Collapse Imminent?


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@13ft

I'm actually the subject of the entry. The numbers are indeed correct: I have documented 2,700 post offices over the past three years, and have the photographs as well as a substantial collection of hand-stamped postmarks to show for it. You're right in that takes a LOT of time, though a person motivated is capable of uncommon feats.

Keep in mind, it's not as though I spend four hours at every location. Sometimes my stops last five or fewer minutes, especially if the clerk is busy or if there are customers on line. I won't keep them all waiting so I can shoot the breeze, and frequently the historical knowledge of a location is simply not known by anyone at the P.O. That said, to write about a location I enjoyed, I'll always conduct my own [additional] research after the fact. At minimum, while a PO is open, I'll go in and get my postmark for my collection, go outside and take a photo or two, and move on.

Sometimes I could spend an hour at an office if the Postmaster feels like chatting, s/he has some time, and the place is of particular interest.

Lately I haven't had the luxury of being able to operate during the week, so during weekends (and especially on Sundays) I have to bite the bullet, just go out and photograph, leave notes where I can, or mail back later to see if they have anything to contribute.

It helps to have your stops (or at least your general geographical area of interest) mapped out in advance; so yes, while they get more spread out over time, it's still quite possible -- especially if you make a weekend trip of it and use your nightly stops as a geographic base for explorations in a new corner of the country. It just requires the care and effort.

Hope you enjoyed the article in any case. Take care,
-- Postal Santa
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@Santa

Sure you could do it if they were all located within the same county. But, given the rural nature of many of the closures, they will only get more spread out as the quest continues. Then there's the fact that he's interviewing as well as photographing. And... they're closed at 5 on m-f and 12 on Sat. It is just not possible to do this in 3 yrs. And the closures have only been announced this year.
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13ft, a year is 365/6 days. Are you saying that over three years, or 1,000 days, you couldn't drive to an average of two or three places each day, even if it meant a stop in to say hello and a photograph at each place?

Sadly, my magic is not at work here.
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Great call wpdunn, or instead of blaming the union, fix the '06 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act so they're not prefunding their heath care obligations for the next SEVENTY FIVE years, among other things. Ralph Nader notes that without this act, the Post Office would be sitting on a 1.5B surplus. By the way, both parties were nearly unanimous in passing it. Congress made the problem, Congress should fix it, ha ha, yeah I actually said that. Wait, you mean the fix has already been proposed in the House? HR1351 submitted April 4, 2011. And it has 227 co-sponsors, including both sides? I wonder why it hasn't been voted on yet? It's languishing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform right now, headed by Darrell Issa. This committee has passed through numerous new Post Office names, but not actually working on fixing the WHOLE Post Office. I'm not merely picking on Issa. He passed his own bill through committee and it was submitted on June 23rd. That's the bill that ends Saturday Delivery, closes more offices and lays off lots of workers, but still keeps the Post Offices' overpaid billions in other hands, making the debt numbers look slightly better (you know, like we've done with SS for decades!). Or its the dirty filthy unions.
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