March 10, 2010

Mail branch nears point of no returnThis is a 6-column headyne for dummy type

MELANIE CREAMER

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The U.S. Postal Service is considering closing a post office in Portland's West End as part of a nationwide drive to reduce huge budget deficits, but some regular patrons say shutting the office is a bad idea for customers and the neighborhood.

The branch at 622 Congress St. was one of more than 3,600 across the country that the Postal Service listed this summer for possible closure. The list was whittled recently to 413, and the Congress Street branch is the only one targeted in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Tom Rizzo, district spokesman for the Postal Service, said the recession, coupled with the increasing use of e-mail, has caused single-piece first-class mail volume to decline by more than 20 percent nationwide. He said the service's budget projected a further drop of 8 billion pieces of mail, but new forecasts indicate the decline may exceed 20 billion pieces.

''We survive on the stamps and services we sell,'' Rizzo said. ''We need to make some decisions to be financially responsible. This decision, we feel, is justified.''

The West End branch is within a half-mile of a branch at 400 Congress St. and Portland's main post office at 125 Forest Ave.

That's a relatively easy walk for some, but not for Sharon Greenleaf, 64, a West End resident who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around the neighborhood and often goes to the post office to mail her bills and letters.

''It would be a terrible inconvenience'' if the post office closed, Greenleaf said as she visited the branch last week.

Karen Cabot, another neighborhood resident, does business at the post office twice a week.

''I love being able to walk here,'' she said. ''It's easy. The post office is part of this neighborhood.''

Tom Antonik has had a post office box for the past 10 years. He said closing the branch would be a great loss to the neighborhood.

''It's part of this community,'' Antonik said. ''These jokers have my packages at the counter as I walk in. They know who I am. It would be a great loss.''

The branch has 735 post office boxes, 379 of which are rented, said Rizzo, the Postal Service spokesman. If the post office closes, customers will decide which of the other branches they want to use.

Rizzo said the full-time clerk at the branch would be reassigned.

The post office is in the heart of the West End neighborhood and Portland's arts district, where many residents walk to shop and conduct their business. Many elderly people use the post office, as do residents at Lafayette Apartments, half a block away.

Today, nearly 30 percent of the Postal Service's retail transactions are made using alternate channels such as usps.com/shop and automated postal centers. Rizzo said there are more than 56,000 stores and banks that sell stamps in Maine.

''We are adapting to meet the evolving needs, demands and activities of our customers,'' Rizzo said. ''We are doing a lot of things right.''

Scott Adams, a postal employee who represents the American Postal Workers Union, said the West End branch has many elderly and handicapped users. Many don't have checking accounts and use the post office to cash government checks and buy money orders to pay their bills.

''It's important for the customer that we are here for that kind of business,'' Adams said. ''We have a different clientele here. I realize the post offices are close, but this is the way the city is built. It's not all about revenue, it's about service. We would be sacrificing a great deal of service to the people who come in here.''

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

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