Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

January 28, 2011

U.S. Postal Service to close offices

EFFINGHAM — As businesses and government entities resort to cost-cutting measures to survive the economic downturn, the U.S. Postal Service is no exception.

    The agency plans to close as many as 2,000 post offices nationwide after reporting an $8.5 billion loss last year.

    U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Valerie Hughes said that number is not definite and no offices have been named at this time. She said the postal service is currently looking at closing stations and branches that serve as satellite offices to a main post office, usually found in larger cities.

    The postal service has been looking at possible closures for a while and, according to Hughes, a list devised a year ago did not include any of the 740 offices in the Gateway District that encompasses southern Illinois as far north as Neoga and the Indiana border in the east. It also includes central and northeastern Missouri. However, she is unsure if the list is being revised or a new list is being made.

    Among the criteria the postal service is looking at in making its decisions are location, specifically offices that are in close proximity to each other; customer usage; access to other forms of usage, such as automated postal centers or other retail outlets that sell stamps and take mail; post office box usage; customer traffic and access; and parking.

    Another factor the postal service also is considering is revenue. Of the 31,871 retail facilities nationwide, only 19 percent cover their costs, which means 80 percent aren’t, according to Hughes. At the moment, though, the postal services’ hands are tied.

    The law currently limits the postal service’s reasons for closing an office, limiting it to maintenance problems, lease expirations or other reasons that don’t include profitability. In order for the postal service to close the most unprofitable post offices, Congress will need to change the law.

    Hughes is not sure when the postal service will name the offices slated to be closed, but added the postal service does anticipate to start closing some of the offices by the end of September. Once the list is made public, there will be a period for public comment.

    Hughes said the closures reflect a growing change in how people conduct mail.

    “People conduct business different today than they did 20 years ago,” she said. “People don’t need the brick and mortar post offices like they did in the past.”

    An increasing number of customers, more than 35 percent, are conducting postal transactions through alternate access, including buying postage online, ATMs and grocery stores. Hughes noted the postal service has jumped into the digital age, even offering a mobile phone application.

    “It’s not even necessary to walk into a post office anymore to mail a package,” said Hughes. “ You can call and make an appointment for your carrier to pick it up.”

    While the postal service has evolved to embrace the online culture, it has also hurt them as more people and businesses communicate via Internet. The migration of mail to electronic media has resulted in mail volume declining by 43.1 billion in the last five years. The most significant drop has been in first-class mailings, which generates more than half the postal service’s revenue, making it the agency’s most profitable product.

    In a move to reduce costs and provide more convenient access to customers, the postal service has been shifting retail locations from the brick and mortar post offices to kiosks and retail partners like Office Depot for shipping and mailing products and other stores where stamps are sold.

    “People are changing their habits, so we have to look at ways to change the way we do business, too,” said Hughes.

    Mareena Hall believes such closures would actually be inconvenient for small towns, where the brick and mortar post offices are their only access. The Mason relief postmaster believes in small, rural towns where there is little else to offer, customers would be driven to bigger towns farther away for their mailing needs.

    According to Hall, rural post offices, like the one in Mason, provide easier access for the elderly and farmers, who make up a large number of the town’s residents.

    “It may not be feasible for them to get to a bigger town,” she said.

    The distance may pose a problem for elderly who are unable to drive long distances and for farmers who at certain times of the year have little time to spare.

    Still, Hall said there is another asset small post offices offer.

    “It’s more personal,” she said. “Everybody knows one another.”

    Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or cathy.thoele@effinghamdailynews.com.

   

   

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