“If they do close it down, it’ll really be a slap in the face to rural people,” said Betty Clawson, co-owner, with husband Gary, of State Line Store, a service station that sits on Jefferson road on the Virginia side of the border. “We’ve owned this store since 1994, and having the post office just on the other side of the hill has been a blessing.”
Currently, the Grassy Creek Post Office serves some 500 local residents, and processes just under 1,000 pieces of mail per day. The office houses 38 P.O. Boxes, 22 of which are currently rented out, or about 58 percent.
The Postal Service has been considering numerous options to make its services more competitive in the digital age, and cut services, like rural Post Offices, that operate at a loss. As more businesses utilize the internet for their communications, first class mail has taken a hit. Combined with ever more competitive package delivery services by UPS and FedEx, the Postal Service is set to lose some $8.3 billion this year alone.
Monica Rabb, a communications coordinator for the United States Postal Service, said the USPS hopes to save $200 million by eliminating an as yet unknown number of post offices.
Rabb said the closure list was compiled by reviewing revenue generation, revenue trends over the past four years, customer accessibility to other locations within a specific geographical area, and operating costs and savings that would come from the elimination of the post office.
“The study will continue for 140 days at which time the Postal Service will open a public input period on the proposed changes that will last 60 days,” said Rabb.
North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has championed the need to hear constituents in communities in danger of losing their Post Office since the postal service announced on July 26 that 20 North Carolina locations were on the chopping block.
In a press release dated Aug. 4, Senator Hagan sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe urging him to hear the concerns of residents in rural areas before any final decisions are made.
“Post Offices provide communities with more than just stamps and package pick-up services,” Hagan wrote. “Many Post Office locations are gathering centers and lifelines for the communities they serve. This is especially true for our rural communities in North Carolina, which seem to bear the brunt disproportionally of each economic challenge the nation encounters, including the current downturn.”
Echoing Hagan’s comments, Clawson said visiting the Grassy Creek Post Office was a part of her daily routine.
“Hardly a day goes by when I don’t drop in to send something off, and it’s so wonderful to be on a first name basis with the postmaster,” said Clawson. “If they shut it down, I think that community connection will be something we’ll miss. I’ll use the Mouth of Wilson Post Office sometimes, but it’s hard to build the same kind of connection when you have to consciously plan a trip.”
Clawson said during the summer, the Grassy Creek area swells with migrant workers that farm the area, and they use the post office “all the time,” to send money order, to pay bills, and send money back home to family in Mexico. Clawson also said the postmaster in Grassy Creek is a trusted member of their community.
“For many of the elderly people around here, getting out to send mail is a big ordeal. Going five miles down the road to another Post Office isn’t necessarily a big deal for young, healthy people, but it’s an ordeal for an elderly person who might only make one trip out a week. Those are the people they have to consider before they make any changes to the system,” said Clawson.
“We would welcome anyone to contact us during that 60 day period to hear their concerns. We can be reached by phone, by email, and of course by mail,” said Rabb.
Rabb said after the public input period, if the decision is made to close the office down, PO box holders, and anyone who receives their mail from the Grassy Creek location would be given written notification that their post office would be shutting down in 60 days time.
“If we do have to make the unfortunate decision to close down a post office, we want residents to have ample time to make other arrangements about getting their mail,” said Rabb.
But there may be a silver lining, said Rabb, that would allow rural areas to keep their post offices, and the vital connection to the federal government that it brings.
“We’re exploring the Village Post Office concept, which would allow rural communities to maintain that personal relationship with their Post Office, and would allow the Postal Service to cut costs and be more flexible in the way we deliver services,” said Rabb.
A fact sheet available from the Postal Service states that “Village Post Offices will be located within existing communities in a variety of locations such as businesses, town halls or government centers, and will be run by those entities.”
Village Post Offices will offer a range of popular products and services-the ones most used by customers-that include collection boxes, PO Boxes, Forever stamps, and Prepaid Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes and evelopes. By being located at businesses and other places that consumers already frequent, Village Post Offices will offer Postal Service customers time-saving convenience, and in many cases, longer hours than regular Post Offices.
The Village Post Offices will provide operators-in most cases, local business owners-with opportunites for increased customer traffic and revenue, as well as the opportunity to provide enhanced service to their customers and clients.
Rabb also said that utilizing the Village Post Office structure would also allow Grassy Creek to retain the town’s ZIP code and name.
“There’s currently quite a bit of interest in the program. Anyone who would like to begin the process can contact us at VPO.enquiry@USPS.com, or call the Postal Service at 888-711-7577,” said Rabb.
Clawson said she would be open to the idea of hosting the post office in their store. “If it would keep the office open, we’d certainly consider it.”
Rabb also answered concerns that the Warrensville Post Office location would also face closure in the future.
“The only thing that is happening in Warrensville is the “DUO”, or Delivery Unit Optimization, process,” said Rabb. “Basically, our third party carriers are paid based on the number of stops they make. By eliminating Warrensville from the route, and having all deliveries picked up in Lansing, the Postal Service is saving money. It’s a pretty transparent process, and there will be no impact on retail operations, but it is a change that gets commented on all the time.”
When asked whether the Postal Service had any plans to eliminate Saturday service, Rabb said there were some proponents within the service that would like to see Saturday service cut, and the Postal Service has sponsored legislation in Congress that would allow them the flexibility to end Saturday service, something their congressional mandate disallows.
“Right now, any decision about ending Saturday service is up to congress. The Postal Service would like the flexibility to make that decision, but we can’t do that without their approval,” said Rabb.