November 18, 2013

Yarmouth store may lose post office status

After a contract dispute, Andy's Handy Store can't act as a full-service outpost, but hundreds of residents want that service back.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Andy’s Handy Store may have to offer only limited postal services.

click image to enlarge

Matt Williams stands in front of his Andy’s Handy Store in Yarmouth. His purchase of the shop in July triggered the loss of the contract to offer full postal services.

Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Matt Williams, right, owner of Andy’s Handy Store in Yarmouth, has fun with customer Ronnie Thoits Saturday. Residents want postal services restored in the shop.

The deal seemed straightforward enough.

In July, Matt Williams took over Andy’s Handy Store on Main Street in Yarmouth, the cozy, homespun lunch spot that’s been a local favorite since it opened in 1935.

With the deal, Williams believed he could continue to operate one of the store’s more popular features – a full-service post office in place since 1999.

Each month, the U.S. Postal Service paid the business a small fee for handling all types of mail, selling stamps, and sending packages on their way around the country and the world.

“When the (main Yarmouth) post office is closed, (people would) come here and mail their packages,” said Williams, 41, of Freeport. “It’s fast service. You’re in and out in a couple minutes.”

But for months now, Williams has been locked in a back-and-forth with the postal service over whether the cash-strapped agency would grant a new contract to continue operating a full-service outpost there. The postal service said the old contract was voided when the business changed hands. Now, Williams’ only option may be offering a narrower array of postal services, even after hundreds of residents – 782, to be exact – signed a petition calling for the contract to be reinstated.

“I’m doing a lot of work for (the USPS) for essentially nothing,” said Williams, who currently buys stamps at a nearby supermarket and resells them at face value at his store.

Until its demise in September, the Andy’s Handy post office was one of 28 so-called contract postal units in Maine, those full-service post offices operated by other businesses. No new contracts have been written in at least the last year, according to the postal service.

Williams’ quarrel is one example of how customers are being affected by the shifting priorities of the postal service.

The absence of the post office at the store has disappointed many of his customers, some of whom are too old to drive to another post office less than a mile away. Others enjoyed the convenience of simply walking out their front door to mail a package.

One of the aggrieved postal customers is Elinor Jones, 77, who collected about 200 of the petition signatures. She preferred the swift, reliable service at Andy’s Handy Store to the regular post office less than a mile away on Forest Fall Drive, where lines to buy stamps can sometimes reach 25 or 30 minutes, she and Williams said.

“Our post office in town has long lines and (it’s) slow,” said Jones. “I never go there.”

Since 2006, when the postal service handled 213 billion pieces of mail nationwide, volume has declined by about 25 percent. In addition, the USPS has shuttered post offices around the country, often engaging in a tug-of-war with communities that hold their post offices dear.

“I think there was a misunderstanding along the line,” said Tom Rizzo, a postal service spokesman in Portland, when asked about the situation in Yarmouth. “(Williams is) concerned about making money, and the postal service is interested in providing services in the most efficient way possible, and that may not be in line with a particular store owner’s wishes or desires.”

The postal service is moving away from contract postal units and toward the so-called village post office model, in which businesses are allowed only to sell stamps and prepaid flat rate boxes for shipping, Rizzo said. The postal service is self-funded, meaning it operates solely on revenue from mail and receives no financial help from taxpayers. Additionally, Congress has mandated that the USPS sock away $5.5 billion per year to pay for its employees’ future retirement costs.

After the uproar, Williams said the postal service offered him – and he accepted – village post office status, but he will no longer receive a fee from the USPS. It will take at least a couple of months for Williams to get the new arrangement up and running. That means he will miss out on the busy Christmas season, when mail volume traditionally increases.

“People are going to miss it,” Williams said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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