May 29, 2011
The post office in Norwich, Connecticut, was built in 1905. An addition was built by the New Deal in 1938, and the post office was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It contains a mural, "Taking Up Arms - 1776," painted in 1940 by George Kanelous, who was such a perfectionist he’d paint over his own paintings and consequently left a relatively small body of work.
According to The Day, James A. Hickey Jr., a Postal Service real estate specialist, told city officials that the building could be placed on the market within the next 60 days. The Postal Service would consider providing for the downtown “with a so-called contract postal unit, a small station run by a private business owner to sell stamps and hold post office boxes.”
City officials have enlisted assistance from the state congressional delegation Monday in the fight to save the post office. But The Day reports, “Norwich might not get a full hearing on their arguments. Because the Postal Service considered it merely a transition from one Norwich facility into another, the city was not given any input or a public hearing ahead of time on the decision.” Watch a TV news spot on the fate of the post office.
May 29, 2011
At the geographical center of Danbury, Connecticut, is the Main Street Historic District. It has 97 buildings of historic and architectural significance, and two of them are post offices—the Old Post Office (1876) at 258 Main Street, now home to a financial group, and the current post office at 265 Main Street. A two-story brick Georgian Revival building with a limestone marble and stained oak interior, it was designed in 1916 by Oscar Wenderoth, director of the Office of the Supervising Architect, an agency of the United States Treasury Department that designed federal government buildings. The four wards of Danbury met at a point in the middle of the street directly in front of the post office, so it was literally at the center of town.
As Danbury’s Main Street blog told the story back in 2008, all mail processing operations moved to another facility in 2007, thus reducing the Main St post office to a retail operation. So it came as no surprise that the USPS was considering closing the post office completely. The proposal met with fierce opposition, and residents succeeded in killing the closing.
“It's like Groundhog Day all over again,” now writes the Hat City Blog. The location on Main Street is back on the chopping block, and residents are speaking out in opposition again.
As the Danbury Patch reported on May 5, “About 80 people harangued U.S. Postal Service decision-makers in Danbury City Hall Wednesday in an effort to save the Main Street Post Office.” Local politicians have also weighed in their support for keeping the post office open. But the future of this historic post office doesn't look good. After all, there's another place to do your post office business a few blocks away, at the One-Stop Gift Shop.
May 27, 2011
The Old Town of Pass-a-Grille is an officially designated historic district located in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. The district contains 97 buildings, and at its center is Eighth Avenue, a one-block stretch between the gulf and the bay. In the 1940s, Ripley's Believe it or Not deemed Eighth Avenue the smallest main street in America.
Pass-a-Grille has had a post office for over a century, and it’s been on Eighth Avenue since the 40s. The post office was slated to be closed in 2009, but residents rallied and the post office was temporarily spared. According to the St. Petersburg Times, residents learned a couple of weeks ago that it will be closing on June 17.
“Everyone picks up their mail there," said Nancy Shannon, a longtime Pass-a-Grille resident. "I've been living here for over 50 years. I came down as a bride-to-be from New York. Ever since then, I've bought my packages and stamps there. It is a core community place. After 2009, we thought the issue had been laid to rest. We were lulled into thinking that everything was okay."
As the St. Pete Times describes it, the Pass-a-Grille post office is very small, with room for just a few customers at a time. It's the kind of place where they keep gum drops on the counter for the kids and dog biscuits behind it. The post office is a local magnet, said one resident, and "how we keep in touch with all the people that live out here." Another added, "It would be kind of crazy to think of this place without a post office."
UPDATE: June 17, 2011: The post office closed on Friday, June 17, 2011. The St. Petersburg Times has an beautiful piece by Leonora LaPeter Anton, "Tearful locals bid farewell to tiny, historic Pass-a-Grille post office."
May 28, 2011
The post office in downtown Lakewood, New Jersey, was built by the WPA in 1938. Located at the corner of Clifton Avenue & Main Street, it’s undergone a few changes over the years, like an addition on the north side and renovation of the interior, but for the most part it looks like it did back in 1938.
The Asbury Park Press reports that the USPS announced this week that it would be closing this historic post office and selling the building. Postal services for the community will be moved to a facility in the Lakewood Industrial Park on the outskirts of the town. A real estate specialist for the Postal Service told Lakewood officials there would be a benefit for the town because the building, once sold, could be added to the town’s tax roll. Town officials and local residents were not impressed with the argument, and they passed a resolution Thursday night making it known that it considers the move by the postal service to be "extremely inappropriate."
Lakewood was settled before the American Revolution, and it’s had mail service since the early 1800s, when a man was hired to deliver letters and other valuables to and from Freehold, a connecting point to New York and Philadelphia. In 1880, citizens had an election to choose the village’s name, and on March 20 the Post Office officially recognized the village as "Lakewood.” In the early 1900s, it became a vacation resort for the wealthy: the Rockefeller family estate is now Ocean County Park, and Jay Gould’s is now Georgian Court University (wikipedia). With a population of over 92,000, Lakewood is the seventh largest community in New Jersey.
Though set on Long Island, The Amityville Horror was actually filmed partly in Lakewood. The story of a haunted house where a mass murder had taken place, the film was a huge box office success, but it got some negative reviews, like one from Roger Ebert, who described it as "dreary and terminally depressing.” The same goes for the closing of Lakewood’s New Deal post office.
May 25, 2011
Freehold, New Jersey, has had a post office since 1795, and it once had a New Deal post office. Built in 1934 by the WPA, it boasted a historic mural of Revolutionary War hero Molly Pitcher, painted in 1936 by Gerald Foster of Westfield. The mural now hangs in the Monmouth County Library, and the post office building now houses the Sheriff’s office and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
In 1991, a new, larger post office was built a few miles away, and downtown Freehold came to be served by a satellite post office, first located in a pharmacy, then an office supply store, and, since 2002, by a trailer in a parking on Lafayette Street. Humble though it may be, the “temporary” trailer post office has been a welcome presence in the community. Back in 2009, when the USPS announced it would be closing this post office, citizens and government officials united in protest, and the post office was “taken off the chopping block.”
“Freehold Borough is a very pedestrian town,” Mayor Michael Wilson said at the time. “People park their cars and walk around to run their errands. . . If people had had to travel to Freehold Township for their postal needs, it would mean more cars on the road, more traffic and fewer people taking advantage of our town’s wonderful business district.”
Freehold Director Barbara McMorrow added, “Monmouth County has an obligation to fight for our residents, and, in this case, we have done just that and won. Access to a U.S. Post Office is something we promise our citizens, and if that post office can be reached without need of a car, which would only add to the traffic and pollution in our area, than the win is even sweeter. I thank the Postal Service officials who made the right judgment.”
This week the USPS announced it would be closing the "temporary" Freehold post office in July. “This is an abomination,” said Councilwoman Sharon Shutzer, an outspoken opponent of the plan. “This is the result of some empty suit sitting in Washington, D.C., looking at a map and seeing that there are two post offices in one ZIP code.”
Freehold is the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen, who wrote a song about growing up “In Freehold." The song ends:
“Don't get me wrong, I ain't puttin' anybody down
In the end it all just goes and comes around
In my hometown back in Freehold.”
May 24, 2011
The North County Times reports that the Postal Service plans to shift 11 postal carriers' home base from the Winchester, California, post office to a postal delivery center, and the news has prompted concern from some members of the community that this is the prelude to closing the post office completely. Residents say a closure "would take away a key focal point for a rustic, rural community being pressed on all sides by suburban sprawl."
It would also wipe out a prominent piece of Winchester's past. "It's part of this valley's history," said Andy Domenigoni. "My great-grandfather started it." The Winchestor post office was established in 1880 as a stagecoach center and a mail transport center. A few years later it moved to the the town's general store, where it resided for over 80 years. It's been at the current location since 1985.
May 23, 2011
The post office at 154 Post Road in Westport, Connecticut, was built in 1935 by the New Deal. It was designed by Lansing Holden, a World War I flying ace, who won the Distinguished Service Cross. Returning home from the war, he took up his father’s profession as an architect. Holden continued to fly, and in 1938 he died in a crash trying to land in bad weather.
As reported in the Westport Patch, the Postal Service decided back in December 2009 to sell the post office. The explanation was that "the USPS is having financial problems, customers have trouble finding parking spaces by the building, and the building is larger than Westport postal workers need now that mail is sorted in Norwalk." The building was appraised at $3.6 million, according to Westport tax records.
The Westport News reports that the post office was sold on May 18 for $2.35 million, to a real estate company named Ansley Westport Partners, based in Atlanta. The new owners of the building will seek a retailer or restaurant as a tenant. "It's a unique and historic building. We appreciate the importance of the building to Westport," said Ansley Westport principal and Atlanta-based lawyer, Alon Panovka. "We would like to find a tenant that will enhance the downtown Westport area."
Westport will continue to have its own post office—it's relocating a few block away, to Playhouse Square. Postal Service officials have not yet disclosed a relocation date.
As the Westport Patch reports, local merchants are bemoaning the closing of the post office. "It's terrible. Just a shame," said Joe Canicatti, owner of Joe's Pizza,which is just across the street from the post office. "We are going to lose a lot of foot traffic. Everybody's moving out. It's disappointing."
Westport, by the way, was the home of artist Robert Lamdin, who painted New Deal murals in the nearby Bridgeport post office and elsewhere in Connecticut.
UPDATE: The post office closed with the first of the year, Jan. 2012.
May 23, 2011
The Postal Regulatory Commission is is an independent government agency charged with oversight of the Postal Service. Ruth Y. Goldway is the chairman of the Commission, and she testified before the Senate yesterday (May 22, 2011). A key part of her statement concerned the closings of post offices across the country. She made two key points: (1) the Postal Service has already gone too far in its closing process without first getting an Advisory Opinion from the Commission, and (2) the Postal Service is ignoring the public's rights to notification and participation in the closing process. Here's an excerpt from her statement (here's the full statement):
"The Postal Service has said that it plans to request an Advisory Opinion within months related to the closing of a large number of post offices nationwide. It is apparent, however, from the volume of news reports and customer inquiries received by the Commission from around the country that the Postal Service is already taking substantial action to close post offices or evaluate them for closure. The Postal Service has not provided details of this activity to the Commission.
"I am concerned that the Postal Service should not be undertaking nationwide service changes without first requesting an Advisory Opinion. Their suggested timing of such a request may obfuscate the purpose and intent of Congress in requiring such Advisory Opinions.
"The Commission has provided comments to the Postal Service’s Federal Register filing regarding changes to the closings process, as well as in an Advisory Opinion on Station and Branch Closings. I am concerned the public’s rights to notification and participation in the closing process are now ignored. The Postal Service is a government monopoly with obligations to all its citizens, not only a delivery service for business mailers — as important as that may be to our nation’s economy.
"Effective regulatory oversight is especially vital when the entire mail system faces major changes. The Commission ensures transparency, accountability and adequate service levels and supports positive changes needed to keep the Postal Service vital and relevant."
May 23, 2011
The post office in downtown Camas, Washington, was built in 1939 under the New Deal, and it's been on the National Register of Historic Buildings since 1991.
The Camas post office contains a mural, sponsored by the Section of Fine Arts, painted by Douglas Nicholson in 1941. Entitled "Beginning of a New World," it depicts Northwest settlers and a Native American woman as well as local industries of lumber, dairying, fruit and grain, and fishing. (More on the history of this post office, here.)
The Postal Service announced back in late 2009 that the Camas post office would be closing, a decision decried by residents and city officials. “You’re taking a sound establishment from the core of downtown, which will have a detriment to the downtown businesses,” said Brent Erickson, executive director of the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce. “With businesses that have moved out of the area or closed up shop, we’ll have that much less of a walking traffic down here.” “It’s used by many, many, many people,” City Manager Lloyd Halverson said. “It’s got nice architecture to it. It would be a loss to the downtown area.” Mayor Paul Dennis criticized the Postal Service for its decision and expressed his concerns, but the city was essentially “blown-off” by the Postal Service and said it was going to move forward with the consolidation.
The Columbian reported on April 13, 2011, that the Vancouver-based Last U.S. Bag Co., will be buying the building for the asking price of $430,000. Last U.S. Bag Co. sells custom-sewn bags and cases, and it will use the post office as a showroom and office space.
Beginning in the fall of this year, citizens will need to use an annex on the outskirts of town for their retail services and post office boxes.
More about the community's response on its Facebook page, Save the Camas PO.
May 22, 2011
The post office in Sheffield, Alabama, was built in 1930, and it's on the National Register of Historic Places. It is rumored to be haunted by a former postal employee. Sheffield is the birthplace of actor and senator Fred Thompson (born 1942), who, coincidentally, worked at a post office in Tennessee where he attended high school. Sheffield is just a few miles from Florence, Alabama, home to one of the best examples of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian style (1939-40).
The Times Daily is reporting that the Postal Service, starting July 16, will consolidate delivery services and move them from the Sheffield post office to a new facility out on the highway in nearby Tuscumbia. USPS spokesman Joseph Breckinridge said the change is a cost-saving measure that will not affect the retail operations of the downtown Sheffield post office. “We crunched the numbers and it comes out to the good,” Breckinridge said. “The Internet is chewing us up, and we're just trying to deliver the service and trying to think in new ways and cut costs.” Apparently the consolidation has citizens worried, and the rumors are beginning that the Sheffield post office may eventually be closed completely.
(Photo credit: jimmywayne, on flickr)
May 22, 2011
The Union Square post office on Washington Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, was built in 1935, under the New Deal. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. As the Someville Patch reports, the USPS is planning to move most of the Union Square operations to another location, sell the historic building, and lease back some space in the Union Square area for a small retail post office. The town of Someville is itself considering purchase of the building, and perhaps turning the building into a performing arts center. The lobby contains an original mural that is part of the Post Office’s “New Deal Art Collection” entitled "A Skirmish between Bristish and Colonists" painted in 1939 by Ross. E. Moffett.
May 20, 2011
The post office in Ukiah, California, was built in 1937 under the New Deal. It may close in a few weeks. On Feb. 23, the Postal Service announced its intention to close this downtown post office and move its services to an annex at the edge of the city. A meeting was held on April 21, and more than 200 people turned out to protest. More might have shown up, but postcards announcing the meeting mysterious arrived a week after the meeting. (Watch a video of the meeting here.)
The post office contains some historic murals, like the one pictured here, "Resources of the Soil," by Ben Cunningham (1938). (For more info, see the Facebook page local citizens are maintaining about their efforts to save the Ukiah Post Office.)
Ukiah is the birthplace is folksinger and protest activist Holly Near, whose song "Show Up" contains these lyrics:
It don’t look good, news is bad
You know I lost all hope that I thought I had
But what if good news is on the way
Wouldn't you hate to miss that day
You gotta show up get ready
See if you know how to rock steady
(photo credit: ukiahpostoffice.com).
UPDATE: June 21, 2011: Mercury News reports, "Historic post office in downtown Ukiah to close": "The Postal Service said Monday that it would shut down the downtown post office and relocate its services to another facility near Highway 101. . . Postal officials have said the mural would be preserved if the building is sold." Some 5,000 signatures had been gathered opposing the closing.
May 20, 2011
In October of 2010, residents of Palm Beach, Florida, learned that their post office would be closing. An historic structure built in 1936 by the New Deal, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Residents had a few weeks to protest, and protest they did, but to no avail—the post office is closing, probably sometime in June.
The post office has already been sold—to real estate mogul and former Democratic candidate for the Senate, Jeff Greene. Greene says he plans to use the Mediterranean-style building to house the offices of his Palm Beach-based company, Florida Sunshine Investments, Inc.
“I’ve known that building since I was a little kid, and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to it,” said Greene. As a teenager he used to pick up his father’s mail there. “I have a sentimental attachment to the post office,” Greene said. “What a marvelous building.”
How Greene made his millions became an issue when he ran for the Senate in 2010. In the Democratic primary, his opponent accused him of becoming a billionaire by trading the credit default swaps that helped plunge the country into a recession.
There was some truth to the accusation. As Forbes Magazine reported back in 2008 in a story entitled “The Reluctant Billionaire,” “Greene is one of those rare people who smelled trouble in housing when times were flush and made a contrarian bet that they wouldn't last. He did so by creating his own virtual hedge fund and buying credit default swaps that rose in value as subprime mortgages fell.” He earned a quick $800 million profit and a place on The Forbes 400 with a net worth of $1.4 billion.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved Greene’s renovations plans, which involve maintaining the building’s main lobby (as required by preservation convenants) but adding a second floor to the back of the building and demolishing the central service counter to make room for a hallway. The Commission is undecided for now on whether to keep the gold-painted sign above its entrance, “United States Post Office Palm Beach Florida.”
UPDATE: June 23, 2011: The Palm Beach Daily News reports that a new post office has opened in the Royal Poinciana Plaza,a retail and office complex. It's just a few blocks down from the now-closed main branch building. “It’s great. But I like the other one better,” said customer Gaudi De Pedro. "The other building was more of a traditional place. It was unique. I always saw all my neighbors there." The postal service has signed a 10-year lease for the space. No ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the new facility.
UPDATE: August, 2012: According to the Postal Service's new facilities list for leased properties, the annual rent on the new Palm Beach post office is $101,080.
May 19, 2011
The rich heritage of post offices built during the New Deal is being dismantled by the Postal Service, piece by piece. The post office in Athens, Pennsylvania, may be closing soon. The Sayre, PA, Morning Times reports today, "According to the Postmaster (who is not a local), a truck will come in Memorial Day weekend to move the majority of the building out and on June 4, employees were informed to report the Sayre Post Office for work. One clerk and one maintenance man will man the office in Athens until the final shutdown is scheduled.”
The Athens, PA, post office was built in 1939, and it features, like many of the New Deal buildings, a mural of historic interest. It's entitled "General Sullivan at Tioga Point," painted in 1941 by Allan D. Jones, Jr.
The "father of American music," Stephen Foster, was born about 50 miles away, in Lawrenceville, and he attended school in Athens from 1839 to 1841. At the age of 14, he wrote his first composition, Tioga Waltz, and performed it during commencement exercises. The site of his famous song "Camptown Races" is just 30 miles from Athens. You can bet your money on de bob-tail nag, but don't bet on the Athens New Deal post office coming out ahead.
May 19, 2011
The post office in Northfield, Minnesota was built by the New Deal in 1936. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's a cornerstone of the Northfield Downtown Historic District. The Postal Service has announced it will close this historic downtown post office and consolidate services at an annex a few miles away.
KYMN radio reports today that the Northfield city council is sending a letter to the USPS District Area Manager requesting the postal service delay its decision to close the post office. A Save Our Post Office Task Force has gathered over 1,000 petition signatures, and local business people and government officials have been meeting with their Congressional representatives, urging the USPS to reconsider its decision. The USPS made its announcement on April 5, which began a 60-day comment period, so there's still time for local residents to make their voices heard, and it will be several weeks more before a final decision is made.
Northfield is famous for the attempted robbery of the First National Bank by Jesse James and his gang in 1876. The robbery went bad and several people were killed, including two of the gang. Hence, one of Northfield's slogans is "Jesse James Slipped Here." Looks like the USPS may be more successful in robbing the town.
UPDATE: August 18, 2011: "Northfield has been rebuffed in its attempt to buy the city's endangered post office and provide free space for the U.S. Postal Service to continue retail service in the historic building." Read more.
UPDATE: Jan. 25, not good: http://northfield.patch.com/articles/post-office-could-be-put-up-for-sale-within-days
(Photo credits: exterior)
May 19, 2011
The downtown post office in Cheraw, South Carolina, was built in 1933 under the New Deal. It's located in the middle of the Cheraw Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's surrounded by buildings that go back to the Civil War and even earlier. Cheraw, by the way, is the birthplace of Dizzie Gillespie.
The post office almost closed back in 1996 and again in 2009, but preservationists and government officials were able to save it. Now this historic post office is set to close again, and this time it looks like it's going to be tough to save. Postal Service officials want to consolidate operations by moving postal services to an annex located three miles from downtown.
Cheraw's mayor, Scott Hunter, said the post office would not go down without a fight, and he's enlisted the support of U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney. But residents of the small town can see the writing on the wall. As the Cheraw Chronicle reports, there are already rumors going around that potential buyers are making inquiries, and preservationists are hoping that the building might be turned into a museum or something that preserves the historic integrity of the building.
UPDATE, JUNE 8, 2011: "Residents riled up over closure of Post Office"
UPDATE, FEB. 12, 2012: USPS says, "how about a modular unit?"
May 18, 2011
Representatives of the postal system appeared before a Senate subcommittee yesterday to give testimony on the financial condition of the post office as well as addressing bills before the Senate. President of the National League of Postmasters Mark Strong had this to say:
"There appears to be renewed interest in some sectors in closing small rural post offices, an interest that is too often simplistically tied to the notion of closing excess facilities to drive excess capacity out of the system. This interest has arisen despite the fact that small rural post offices are the keystone of many rural communities, and the fact that closing post offices saves the Postal Service very little money. According to PRC data the total net cost of the 10,000 smallest Post Offices—more than one-third of all Post Offices in the United States—is less than seven tenths of one percent (0.7%) of the total cost of the United States Postal Service.
"Thus, closing post offices is not a cost savings measure of any serious import, no matter how anyone spins it. It is one of those cost saving measures that is popular with senior postal managers who wish to look good and give the impression that they are driving costs out of the system, without really doing so. . . .
"Small post offices should not be closed, and indeed cannot be closed without doing serious damage to rural America and the image of the federal government in those areas."
May 17, 2011
Media Matters reports that "Fox Launches Misleading Attack On Postal Service": "On Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney attacked the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for seeking a 'bailout" because if it "were run like a business," the USPS would be "cutting costs" and wouldn't need federal assistance. In fact, the USPS has been cutting costs for years, and like the USPS, hundreds of private businesses have recently received federal assistance." The Media Matters article provides exhaustive evidence from a number of news sources about what the USPS has been doing to cut costs. Here's the Fox video:
May 17, 2011
The Wall Street Journal editorial bashing the USPS that we noted a couple of days ago continues to stir up controversy. The blog "Dead Tree Edition," which follows the production and distribution of magazines and catalogs, provides a thorough debunking of the Journal piece, and it makes the additional point that the Postal Service gives the Journal special treatment: "Within the Postal Service, the Journal is famous for complaining vociferously if any of its newspapers are delivered a day late, even if the Journal misses the deadline for getting the papers to a postal facility. Postal managers generally acquiesce, creating special (and labor-intensive) procedures to expedite handling of the Journal." In response to the op-ed's refrain about what the Postal Service would be doing to cut costs if it were a private enterprise, Dead Tree Edition concludes, "If the Postal Service were a private business, it would not be subsidizing The Wall Street Journal."
The Journal editorial got the attention of Dennis Ross, Republican Congressman for Florida's 12th district, who's been Tweeting about it with his followers. Ross is a member of the Tea Party, and apparently he's making himself a "watchdog" of the Postal Service. You can imagine what he has to say.
If you want more on all this bruhaha about a "bailout" that's not a bailout, check out the editorial in Business Insider, which makes pretty much the same case as the Wall Street Journal piece. This one gets a quick debunking from the Postal News blog.
May 17, 2011
There's been postal service in the small town of Cora, Wyoming, for the past 120 years. That may come to an end soon. Cora has received notice that the post office is being studied for closure or consolidation. The current postmaster said she was not authorized to speak to reporters about the possible closure, but former Cora postmaster Pat Poletti, who retired last year, said more should be considered than just economic benefits when deciding to close a community’s post office. “I hope people realize the specialness of that place and the value as a community gathering place, a community icon,” said Poletti. “As a former postmaster who has traveled all over the state teaching classes, there’s no place like the Cora Post Office. It’s on the Continental Divide hiking trail, it’s in the tourist brochures, it would just be a loss on so many levels, and to tell us we can go to Rock Springs to get our mail is ludicrous.”
Joanna Ludwig, who owns the building and was Cora’s postmaster for 23 years, told the Sublette Examiner, “I’m very concerned for our community. . . We serve such a vast area and we take care of all the tourists, the hikers and fishermen, the bikers and hunters in the summertime. … I have so many feelings I don’t know where to start. This community is a family. . . . This post office has been here for 120 years, and I hope it’s here for a long time after I’ve gone. Without the post office, there would be no Cora.”
May 15, 2011
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece entitled "The Coming Postal Bailout: Congress wants taxpayers to save mail worker pensions." The editorial argues that because the Postal Service is about to use up its $15 billion line of credit with the federal government, the USPS is going to have to ask for a "taypayer bailout." But is helping the Postal Service stay alive really about a "bailout"?
At the heart of the issue is the $5 billion the USPS is required to pre-pay health and retirement benefits, as mandated by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA). Postal Service officials argue that if it did not have to make these payments, it would be showing a $9 billion profit instead of a $12 billion deficit. As the USPS website explains, "The Postal Service wants to restructure retiree health benefits payments to 'pay-as-you-go,' comparable to what is used by the rest of the federal government and the majority of the private sector. The Postal Service is paying for health care costs that have yet to be incurred. These funds are set aside to pay for future health care needs for employees who are not even retirement eligible. It is an unreasonable financial burden given everything that is happening in the mailing industry."
So, while the WSJ warns of a "union raid," the Postal Service is not really asking for a bailout at all. As Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told Congress, "We are not asking for a bailout, just a level playing field," he said. "Take care of these unfair financial burdens and you'll never hear from us again except about how great we're doing."
May 14, 2011
The post office has stood on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, NC, for 134 years. It will close on July 15. As the Raleigh News & Observer reports, "Finished in 1877 at a cost of $400,000, the building at Fayetteville and West Hargett streets was the first post office built in the South after the Civil War. . . . Standing next to the Wake County courthouse at one of downtown Raleigh's busiest corners, the post office has made for an informal gathering place even for those who aren't mailing anything. . . . There was no word about a possible future use for the ground floor space that will be vacated. Post office officials did not return calls seeking comment, but a note taped to a mail slot attributed the closing to recession-related declines and changing consumer habits."
UPDATE, May 17: The website Goodnight, Raleigh has an excellent post about the history and architectural features of Raleigh's Century Postal Station, with lots more pictures too.
In today's news, Raleigh's mayor, Charles Meeker, pledged to fight to keep the post office open. Standing on the steps of the post office, Meeker said, "“Raleigh appreciates that beautifully designed and built buildings have served us well and represent an investment in our people and their future,” Meeker said. “We want these architectural treasures to continue to be part of our daily lives. Raleigh appreciates that a building such as Century Post Office, that has served us daily through world wars, recessions and celebrations is essential to the fabric of who are.”
Here's a ABC TV news report on the story.
UPDATE, MAY 26, 2011: "Downtown Raleigh post office might be spared"
UPDATE, JUNE 8, 2011: "Downtown Raleigh post office given reprieve from closing"
(Photo credit: Raleigh Connoissieur)
May 13, 2011
It's Friday the 13th, and Fox Business contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano has a scary thought: "Let's Abolish the Post Office." According to Napolitano's latest "Freedom Watch" column, the postal service is a "Soviet-style behemoth" and an inefficient, non-competitive "dinosaur," and the only reason it even exists is because politicians are pandering to voters. Don't think Napolitano is alone. Conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute have been busy for years holding conferences, cranking out white papers, and testifying before Congress about why the postal service should be privatized.
Next week a Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management will hold a hearing on “Addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s Financial Crisis." Don't be surprised if a witness or two argue that the postal service should just be eliminated altogether.
In the meantime, communities across the country are expressing their dismay about the news their post office is being closed. Today, like most every day over the past couple of months, brings news of more closings: In Ellisburg, NY, "Another rural community has found its post office on the chopping block, and residents aren't happy about it." Residents of the hamlet Etna, NY (near Ithaca) are being forced to "imagine life without the post office."
In Woodgate, NY, residents assembled outside their community post office Thursday afternoon, "and they weren't there to buy stamps. Instead, they gathered united in a fight to keep a staple of their community open—the post office." It's been the "heart and soul" of the community for nearly 100 years. In Michigan, the village of Boon in Wexford County just learned their post office might be closing—TV news spot here. And in a small town east of San Francisco, the headline reads, "Moraga Town Council Versus the U.S. Postal Service."
Maybe in the next sequel to "Friday the 13th," instead of haunting a summer camp, Jason will be stalking victims of a closed post office. There will be plenty of them.
May 12, 2011
President Obama has announced his intent to nominate Robert G. Taub as Commissioner, Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). That's bad news for those concerned about post office closings. Taub, who's a former aide to a Republican Congressman, was instrumental in developing the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which is one of the reasons the Postal Service is in such financial straits. As this article explains, "The cause of the Postal Service’s multi-billion dollar losses over the last few years is a little-known provision of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the USPS to pre-fund future retiree healthcare liabilities." This costs the USPS more than $5 billion annually, and had it not been for these payments (which no other government agency is required to make), the Postal Service might be showing a profit instead of a deficit. It's the Postal Regulatory Commission that plays a crucial role in the "discontinuance" process the Postal Service must follow when it chooses to close a post office. The PRC handles an appeal when the public is dissatisfied with the Postal Service's decision to close a post office, and the PRC weighs in with an "advisory opinion" on proposed changes to the closure process—as it did just last week.
May 11, 2011
The Postal Service announced another quarter of losses, more than $2 billion, and warned it could be forced to default on federal payments for the billions it's borrowed from the government.
In the meantime, the closings continue. In Floriston, California, they closed a historic post office that dates back to 1872. In Modesto, CA, prospective buyers have begun touring its vintage downtown post office—the 78-year-old landmark will be auctioned June 9 by the federal government. In Veribesst, Texas, their little United Methodist Church was standing room only as residents confronted the U.S. Postal Service about the possible closing of their beloved post office.
In Nebraska, several congressmen have written to the postmaster general of the USPS expressing concerns about the closing of small rural post offices. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., 3rd Congressional District, said that the Postal Service "must uphold the original mission of serving both rural and urban areas. . . I applaud the recent efforts by the USPS to balance its budget, but I hope it will keep in mind the impact on communities, jobs and urgent mail delivery when deciding whether to close a facility," he said.
And if you think things are bad in the U.S., over in the U.K. they've been closing hundreds of small rural post offices, and this week the company which runs the Post Office network has been accused of running a “secret closure programme” after news leaked that more than 400 branches have quietly closed and not reopened.
(Photo: Joan Alioto takes a last look as Floriston post master before her retirement and subsequent closing of the Floriston post office April 30, 2011. Amy Edgett / Sierra Sun.)
May 9, 2011
From the Watertown Daily Times: "PARISHVILLE — Town Supervisor Jerry G. Moore said closing the U.S. post office in the hamlet is a bad idea that will create a hardship on many in the community, especially senior citizens. Mr. Moore said he won't let the U.S. Postal Service close the post office without a fight.
"I'll get a hold of the board members and start spreading the word to try and get people in town aware of what is going on. We plan to do everything we can to let them know we need this post office," Mr. Moore said. "We've got to fight, we've got to write some letters, we've got to make some phone calls." Read more.
May 8, 2011
The website Postal Reporter is keeping track of all the post office closings, and they're neatly organized, state by state, with links to news articles about the individual closings. It's a great website for keeping up with the latest news about all things postal. And thanks to Postal Reporter for this perfectly apropos cartoon by Chan Lowe. By the way, if you think this is supposed to be funny, read this.
May 8, 2011
From the NAPUS website: "On Monday, May 2, the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S. (NAPUS) and the National League of Postmasters (LEAGUE) submitted “Public Comments” to the U.S. Postal Service, opposing proposed regulations that would result in the wholesale closing of Post Offices through the nation. In a joint comment, the two postal management organizations illustrated how the proposed rules violate current law, undermine post office accountability, weakens universal postal service to small towns and rural America, and jeopardizes the historic community role that Post Offices play. Appended to the comments was the expert legal opinion of former USPS General Counsel Harold Hughes, who views the proposed regulations as illegal and, therefore, should be withdrawn."
May 7, 2011
As required by law, the Postal Service is holding meetings about the post offices it wants to close. At a recent meeting in New Hartford, Iowa, where the Postal Service has its eye on several post offices, things didn't go so well. Confronted by angry citizens opposed to the closure, two "postal service officials abruptly left the gathering at the middle school." You can read the whole story here, and you can see the TV news video below.
May 7, 2011
Another historic post office, this one in Venice, California, is set to close. Like the one we posted about a few days ago, it's from the New Deal, built in 1939 by the Works Projects Administration. The full story is here, and a blog on "save the Venice post office" is here.
Like many New Deal public buildings, the Venice post office has some significant murals, including "The First Thirty Years of Venice’s History," by Edward Biberman, painted in 1941. That's Abbot Kinney in the middle, surrounded by the town he created. Here's an interview with Biberman.
May 7, 2011
On May 2, 2011, the Postal Regulatory Commission submitted comments to the Postal Service on its proposed changes to 39 CFR Part 241, which seek to alter postal regulations “to improve the administration of the Post Office closing and consolidation process” as well as apply “certain procedures employed for the discontinuance of Post Offices to . . . the discontinuance of other types of retail facilities operated by Postal Service employees.” Here's the entire letter, and here are the highlights:
1. The Commission wrote that the Postal Service’s goal to apply a single set of discontinuance procedures to all kinds of post offices (post offices, stations, and branches) was appropriate, but "the Postal Service’s execution of this goal is lacking in one very significant way: the notification of an opportunity to appeal decisions to the Postal Regulatory Commission." The proposal submitted by the Postal Service "does not provide for uniform procedures with respect to notifying persons served by stations or branches of an opportunity to appeal closing or consolidation decisions to the Postal Regulatory Commission."
May 6, 2011
"WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today wrote to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in opposition to a proposed regulation that would give the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) the right to convert post offices into stations or branches of larger post offices at their discretion. Once converted, the USPS would then be able to close rural post offices without any consultation with local citizens or concern about the impact on a rural economy. As Harkin points out in the letter, it appears that the proposed regulations are designed specifically to circumvent current laws to ensure local voices are heard. Currently in Iowa, many post offices are facing potential closures that would disrupt service." Read more.
May 5, 2011
The post office in Modesto, California, was built by the New Deal in 1933, under the supervision of James Wetmore, who was responsible for "designing" hundreds of public buildings in the 1930s. As the Modesto Bee relates, the post office contains nine original wall murals in the lobby, commissioned by the Treasury Relief Arts Project. The oil paintings were done in 1937 by Ray Boynton, with the assistance of several local artists, and they depict agricultural scenes: plowing, sorting and harvesting grapes; irrigating orchards; meat and cheese packing; grain harvesting and feeding cows.
UPDATE: June 15, 2011: "Bidding begins on Modesto post office": "Online bidding to buy downtown Modesto's historic post office started a week ago, but only one hopeful buyer has bid. The minimum opening bid of $100,000 was placed by an undisclosed person the morning bidding opened."