July 27, 2011

In Maine, 34 post offices may be closed

Most of those targeted in Maine are in rural areas; 3,700 could be shut across the U.S.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The United States Postal Service on Tuesday announced it look into closing up to 3,700 branches nationwide, including 34 post offices in Maine, to account for more people doing their postal business online, on their smart phones and at local retailers.

click image to enlarge

A postal worker loads a truck at the Station A Post Office on Congress Street in Portland on Tuesday. The branch was also listed for closure last year, but public response kept it open.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

See the list of post offices and branches being reviewed for closure. 

The postal service, which lost $8 billion last year, is trying to reduce costs and improve operations.

Most of the branches facing closure in Maine are in rural locations, except for one in Portland.

Making the closure list again was Postal Station A at 622 Congress St., in the heart of Portland's West End and the city's Arts District, where many people walk to shop or conduct business. It is also used by a number of elderly residents.

A huge public outcry helped spare Station A from closing in January 2010. The facility has 735 post office boxes.

"I would be very sad if it closed. It is a very convenient location for us," said Alice Meagher, who lives just around the corner on Park Street. She walked to the branch on Tuesday with her husband, Michael, to mail a priority package.

If Station A closes, the Meaghers said, they would not only miss the convenience, but the friendly, knowledgeable customer service they've grown accustomed to receiving.

But, the Meaghers and others who rely on Station A might be out of luck.

The postal service operates 31,871 retail outlets across the country, down from 38,000 a decade ago.

In recent years, business has declined sharply as first-class mail has been lost to the Internet. In addition, the recession resulted in a decline in advertising mail.

Most of the offices facing closure are in rural areas and have low volumes of business.

As many as 3,000 post offices do only two hours of business a day even though they are open longer, according to the Postal Service.

"Today, more than 35 percent of the Postal Service's retail revenue comes from expanded access at locations such as grocery stores, drug stores, office supply stores, retail chains, self-service kiosks, ATMs, and usps.com, open 24/7," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a press release.

"Our customers' habits have made it clear that they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business."

Will Mitchell, a mapping technology consultant whose office is located in nearby Longfellow Square, walked to Station A on Tuesday. He walks to the branch at least once a week to buy stamps or mail materials.

"It's disappointing. I use it a lot," said Mitchell. "If it closes, I guess I'd have to go somewhere else. It would be an inconvenience."

Also appearing on the Maine closure list were branches in Bowdoin, East Parsonsfield, Sebasco Estates in Phippsburg, Water Street in Augusta, North Waterford, Paris and on Cliff and Matinicus islands.

The Postal Service has proposed replacing branches with what it calls the village post office, which would be operated by a local business such as a pharmacy or grocery store.

The announcement was criticized by members of Maine's congressional delegation. Each member issued a statement.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, has introduced legislation to reform the postal service's structural shortfalls and put it on sounder footing.

"The fact is, maintaining our nation's rural post offices costs the Postal Service less than one percent of its total budget and is not the cause of its financial crisis," Collins said.

"The post office in a small town is more than just a place for people to get their mail. It's a place to gather, exchange information, and plays a critical role in keeping small communities going," said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the postal service believes it can save $200 million by closing 3,700 of its 32,000 post offices.

But, Snowe said, "It is critical we carefully assess the potential impact of these proposed closures, especially as it relates to service in rural communities."

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said the postal service must address its financial issues, but added, "I remain concerned that they are targeting rural post offices that are important to communities throughout Maine.

"The postal service needs to address the real drivers of their fiscal problems and not roll back vital services for rural Mainers."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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