PORTLAND — The line of customers waiting to ship packages and mail holiday greeting cards from Portland’s main post office stretched from the customer service counter to the outer lobby Tuesday night.

On Monday night, the line went all the way out the door and into the parking lot.

The post office on Forest Avenue, like most other post offices, was extremely busy because Tuesday was the last day that customers were guaranteed to have first-class cards and gifts arrive by Christmas, said Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Maine.

“Over 600 million letters and cards will be processed tonight,” Rizzo said Tuesday, referring to national statistics. The volume of mail being handled in Maine was not available.

Nationwide, the Postal Service expects to deliver 16.5 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

Post offices in Maine and across the nation face an even greater challenge than handling the holiday rush. The financially challenged Postal Service is considering closing post offices and processing centers to reduce costs.

Rizzo said the Postal Service announced recently that it will postpone closing any post offices until May 15, a decision that affects about 30 post offices in Maine being considered for closure.

Many customers went down to the wire Tuesday as they tried to get packages and cards to friends and family members before Christmas.

Kirsten Wienand of Portland was set to ship a priority mail Christmas package to her mother, who lives in Massachusetts. She was told the package would arrive in two business days.

Wienand is a big fan of the Postal Service. Her grandmother, who lives in Casco, has told her that Casco’s post office has already begun to lay people off and scale back its hours.

“It’s really upsetting because it’s such a tight community in Casco,” Wienand said. “It makes me think about the economy and the effect it is having on us. We’re not only losing post offices, but we are losing people. It’s a big part of our history, and it’s sad. It’s that direct contact with people that I will miss the most.”

George Dalphin of Portland came to the Forest Avenue post office to ship packages to his three nieces, who live in Massachusetts, Indiana and Scotland. Only the package bound for Scotland was not expected to make it in time for Christmas.

“I wouldn’t count myself among those who see post offices as being sacred,” Dalphin said. “I use whatever service is the most efficient.”

Erin Green of Portland came to the post office to ship packages to California and Florida.

Green likes the convenience of doing business at post offices, and feels a connection to the Postal Service. Her husband’s grandmother worked for the post office.

“The closures would be inconvenient, but I understand,” she said. “I do feel it would be more difficult to get things mailed if they close.”

Despite being out straight processing and mailing letters, several postal workers volunteered their time Tuesday to participate in the post office’s annual Letters to Santa program.

Rizzo said volunteers gathered Tuesday morning at the Forest Avenue post office, where they responded in writing to children’s letters addressed to Santa Claus.

Though some children are very specific about their wishes, Rizzo said, “We don’t promise anything more than love and hope.”

Among the postal workers who volunteered was David Knight, postmaster for the town of Denmark.

Dressed as Santa Claus, Knight not only wrote letters to kids, but greeted customers as they entered the post office lobby. Knight also helped customers get their items shipped.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel (the post office) is a service, not a business,” Knight said.

Rizzo said today is the deadline for priority mail to reach its destination by Christmas, and Thursday is the last day for express mail to arrive in time for the holiday.

For folks who plan to use it during the upcoming holiday weekends, the Forest Avenue branch will be open Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Dec. 31 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The post office will be closed Monday and Jan. 2.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]