Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Interesting Alternative: Post Office Express

USPS is keen on expanding its Alternative Access options no matter what, with the ultimate plan of reducing its full-time staff and brick-and-mortar infrastructure. The best Alternative Access channel USPS has is a CPU, though other options include VPOs, Office Max things, Approved Shippers, and partners (read: every large retailer) that sell stamps on consignment.

One alternative that splits the difference between diminished infrastructure and reductions in staff are Post Office Express (POE) operations, whereupon a USPS-staffed finance unit takes residence in a large supermarket operation. The store gets increased foot traffic and the Postal Service gets a prime location in a well-visited location. The option never really took hold and there are but a few of these operations in the country. The only active operations lie in the Las Vegas area and Albuquerque. This post focuses on the former.

The program was conceived and introduced by USPS Headquarters in the mid-1990s, with most POE operations opening for business in 1995 and 1996. In Las Vegas the program served to mitigate the loss of two large Contract Postal Unit contracts: a set of Hallmark franchises and Smith's Food & Drug.

The original Post Office Express locations in Las Vegas, of which there were about a dozen, appeared in Lucky Stores, a local chain of supermarkets. The chain underwent two buyouts and its operations since became Albertson's supermarkets. Several POE operations have since closed during store relocation or renovations; four POE operations in the area, all in Albertson's supermarkets, remain.

According to the fourth edition of the PMCC Post Office Directory for Nevada, there were eight POE locations in the Vegas area as of October 2005; one closed earlier that year. Address information regarding the old Lucky's POE locations bleeds through by way of the Payphone Project's collection box database for Las Vegas, which claims to have last been updated during 2007. Here are the locations that are not active today:

4420 East Bonanza Rd., 89110: "POST OFFICE EXPRESS"
6140 West Lake Mead Blvd., 89108: "POST OFFICE EXPRESS"
4801 Spring Mountain Rd., 89102: "IN FRONT OF LUCKY'S POE (INSIDE)"
2300 East Tropicana Ave., 89119: "POST OFFICE EXPRESS"

The author has visited the four active Post Office Express operations in Las Vegas, and anyone can find out more information about the facilities using USPS's Leased Facilities Report. The best part is that for these operations USPS pays nothing in rent. Okay, sometimes it pays $1 a year. Building maintenance is handled by the landlord, not by USPS itself.

Below is a photo of one such operation, POE #683 (a.k.a. Warm Springs POE). You'll observe that the postal space can be fully closed off from the rest of the store using a sliding / accordion metal barricade. A blue collection box rests outside the door. An exterior photo of the Albertson's is also shown; three of the four operations are signed by USPS Sonic Eagle logos outside.

Las Vegas: POE #683:
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas

Here are the data for active POEs from the Nevada Leased Facilities Report:

Henderson, NV: Horizon Ridge POE (POE Henderson); 2650 W Horizon Ridge Pkwy., 89052.
    1,100 sq. ft., $0.00 rent.
Las Vegas, NV: West Cheyenne POE (POE #695); 8350 W Cheyenne Ave., 89129.
    570 sq. ft., $1.00 rent.
Las Vegas, NV: West Flamingo POE; 10140 W Flamingo Rd., 89147.
    923 sq. ft., $0.00 rent.
Las Vegas, NV: Warm Springs POE (POE #683); 7271 S Eastern Ave., 89119.
    751 sq. ft., $1.00 rent.

(USPS also leases a 110-square-foot APC-only site at another Albertson's location for $1.00 per year.)

By contrast, Las Vegas's Airport Retail Unit occupies 1,056 square feet with a rent of $21,360. Most leased facilities in the Las Vegas area are leased for $15 to $21 per square foot. Freedom of Information Act requests are fun.

The primary costs of operation for Post Office Express locations lay with staffing, and there are two concerns in this regard: 1) the hours of operation are long and (in three cases) continuous, a situation which calls for multiple employees. 2) Customer traffic fluctuates throughout the day. At the West Flamingo Post Office Express operation, the line was out the door at opening time. At POE #683, southeast of McCarran, I arrived after 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, and I was definitely the only patron. At post offices with full carrier operations, there is other work a clerk could do during customer traffic lulls; not so at POE locations.

The hours of operation for Las Vegas-area POEs are extensive, and in two instances they are even open Sundays:
POE #683 and #695:
    Mon.-Fri.: 10:30am—7:00pm
    Sat.-Sun.: 11:00am—7:00pm

POE Flamingo:
    Mon.-Fri.: 11:00am—3:30pm, 4:30pm—7:00pm [6:30 on Friday]
    [Closed Sat. and Sun.]

POE Henderson:
    Mon.-Sat.: 11:00am—7:00pm
    [Closed Sunday]

Now, here are some photos!

POE Henderson:
Post Office Express: Henderson

POE #695:
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas

The newest Post Office Express location, POE Flamingo, also houses an Automated Postal Center:
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas
Post Office Express location, Las Vegas

Albuquerque's three Post Office Express locations are not free of rent; in fact, the locations (at Smith's Food & Drug stores; sound familiar?) are rented for about $29 per square foot, about $21,000 to $34,000 per year.

Carson City, NV also housed a Post Office Express location by way of a Super Kmart Center store (at 3456 N. Carson St.) that was discontinued May 2003. (The POE closed Feb. 23, 2003.) One old Geocities page documents this fact. (Ah, GeoCities. Remember those days?) Declared "the busiest K-Mart Store [storewanderer] had ever seen," the location "had no other competition on its side of town other than an Albertsons and a Safeway." The store advertised its POE on its large exterior signage. The POE, storewanderer declared, "was another thing lost by North Carson upon closure of this store."

The L.A. Times noted in 1995 that this was not the only Kmart to maintain a Post Office Express; "In Fresno, Carson City and Lincoln Park near Detroit, full-service post offices are inside Super Kmart stores. Called "Post Office Express," they are open whenever the store is open, seven days a week. More will open soon in Nashville supermarkets."

It should be noted that not all locations possessing "Post Office Express" signage are a USPS-staffed locations. Occasionally such is used at a standard Contract Postal Unit, as with the Student Unit operation at UCLA. (See photo here.)

4 comments:

Kelvin said...

The only Post Office Express I've been to was in Smyrna, TN, in 2007. Tennessee had three, all in Kroger stores, and all since closed. There was also one in Omaha, NE, which has since been replaced by a regular contract station in the same Hy-Vee supermarket.

Kelvin said...

Now I've learned that there were two more in Tennessee. There were once five POEs in Kroger stores, in Collierville, Franklin, Madison, Nashville and Smyrna.

CT said...

There is a Hallmark store in San Jose, CA that clearly has a sign on the building outside that says Post Office Express. The day I went in recently it had an active line of people waiting for a clerk, so it was busy! It is not listed as a Post Office location but an Approved Postal Provider, and is labeled as a CPU. So, I suppose this is a case of one that is NOT staffed by Postal Service Employees, despite the POE guide I found that says it is supposed to be. If they use the name, does this mean it used to be staffed by Postal Service employees?

CPU LARRYS HALLMARK
1375 BLOSSOM HILL RD STE 61
SAN JOSE, CA 95118-3807

Evan K. said...

I have seen the term "Post Office Express," occasionally, in the context of Contract Postal Units (CPUs). Not the same thing; not sure how that crossover came to be.