Communities opt to save post offices, reduce hours
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012
By Karissa Minn
EAST SPENCER – Local residents say they’re glad the East Spencer post office’s fate is not sealed.
About two dozen people attended a community meeting at the post office Tuesday afternoon about its future. That location, along with two other local offices, could see a reduction in hours but are not set to shut down completely.
Salisbury Postmaster Ellen Hebert answered questions and announced the results of a survey sent out by the United States Postal Service.
“We’re beginning a new program called the POST plan,” Hebert said. “It’s designed to give communities the opportunity to preserve post offices with a realignment of hours.”
Under the proposed plan, retail service at the East Spencer and Gold Hill offices in Rowan County would be cut to six hours a day, and the Misenheimer office in Stanly County would be reduced to four hours. Community meetings were held at all three locations Tuesday.
The new schedules were chosen based on feedback from the community surveys sent about a month ago, Hebert said.
In East Spencer, the retail office would only be open 30 minutes less each day. It would open later and close at the same time with a shorter midday lunch break.
“I would see that as a plus for the public,” Hebert said. “This way, for folks who work or pick up kids early from school, you’ll have that opportunity to come to the post office at that time.”
Mail is normally ready in the post office boxes by 10 a.m., but East Spencer Postmaster Gwendolyn Brown said that will probably shift to a later time.
Mayor Barbara Mallett said that could create a hardship for people who come by the post office in the morning.
Brown responded that they can still pick up yesterday’s mail, like some people do now in the early morning. They will have access to their post office boxes even when the retail office is closed, she said.
Hebert said the Postal Service’s decision will not be final until all community input can be considered. East Spencer residents who didn’t receive a survey can still pick one up at the office, fill it out and send it in.
She said she isn’t sure when the new hours would go into effect, but the offices will be re-evaluated after one year to see if revenues have changed.
Strategy to cut costs
The Postal Service says these changes are part of a strategy to cut costs at a time when the money made from post offices and the amount of mail coming through them are both declining.
Last year, the federal agency announced it was studying nearly 3,700 post offices for possible closure. After getting feedback from customers, the service decided to instead reduce hours at many.
Several people who attended the meeting said they were relieved that the post office won’t be closing.
“I think the biggest concern we had was losing the post office and having to go to Spencer or Salisbury,” said Deloris Foxx. “This post office has been around since I was a little girl, and I’m 62.”
Foxx said it’s important for people to buy their postal supplies locally to keep the office up and running beyond one more year.
“Sometimes you might just be in Salisbury and say, ‘Well, I’m going to just run in here,’ but we need to focus on keeping that revenue here in the town of East Spencer,” she said.
The town’s mayor also encouraged local residents to do business at the East Spencer post office.
Mallett said she sent letters to local churches encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s meeting, because she wanted to be proactive and make sure the community got involved.
“I’m very relieved it’s not closing,” Mallett said. “But now we have to generate income for the post office.”
Alderman John Noble said he had been concerned about elderly town residents who rely on post office boxes to get their mail.
“I’m glad the decision was made to keep it open,” he said.
Sending out surveys
According to a handout from the Postal Service, 393 customer surveys were mailed in East Spencer and 104 were returned. The vast majority – 88 percent – of respondents said they prefer reducing hours over other options that involve closing the post office.
Doris Gaston said she understands the Postal Service’s plan much better after Tuesday’s meeting, and she’s glad she can still go to a post office near her East Spencer home.
“The only thing I was worried about is going to street delivery (instead of a post office box),” Gaston said. “I would have to change addresses, and I didn’t want to go through all of that.”
In Gold Hill, only 155 surveys out of 1,325 mailed were returned to the Postal Service, and 54 percent of respondents were in favor of a reduction in hours.
Another 29 percent preferred closing the post office. Of those, about half said alternate roadside delivery and retail service should be provided, while the other half were in favor of another nearby office providing delivery and P.O. Box services.
Few residents chose the village post office option, which would close the traditional office and open one at a partnering local business.
Denise Koontz, officer in charge at Gold Hill, said she would encourage people to buy stamps, money orders and packaging supplies at the local post office to help support it.
“And if you do eBay, use your ZIP code – that’s where it would help,” Koontz said. “They looked at those figures to come up with this plan.”
So far, out of 10 Rowan County post offices, only two will see a reduction in hours. The proposed new hours for those offices and Misenheimer are:
• East Spencer: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Current hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 1:45-4:30 p.m.
• Gold Hill: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-noon, 2 -4 p.m.
Current hours: Monday-Friday, 8-11:30 a.m., 1:30-4:30 p.m.
• Misenheimer: Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.
Current hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon, 2-4:30 p.m.
For more information, visit usps.com/ourfuturenetwork and click on the links under “Preserving Post Offices.” The United States Postal Service can be reached at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-278-8777).