Monday, October 31, 2011

CPUs Done Right: Weis Markets; Pennsylvania

Ahh, a snowy weekend in Pennsylvania. This means, for the record, that when I took my road trip, I only documented 84 post offices.

[Note: With this story I'm not trying to say that CPUs are a sufficient/full replacement for classified stations and branches. That is, neighborhood post offices should not be closed and a CPU added in its stead. Rather, CPUs are best used as complements to the existing postal network. The CPUs of New York City (particularly within the Triboro District) are a prime example of this: As a neighborhood grows denser and expanded postal service is needed, a CPU is added in the neighborhood -- occasionally near the respective classified station -- to provide additional postal support. They also help to alleviate lines during peak hours.]

So why do I say I say these are CPUs done right? Because they are well-placed; well-known in the community; and well-utilized. Most importantly, the staff was competent, knowledgeable, and friendly. That's what it's all about, folks.

With 163 stores across five states [primarily Pennsylvania], Weis Markets is a good candidate for a regional chain in which to house CPUs -- like Meijer stores in the Upper Midwest, perhaps. At least six of them do house contract units (thank you, PMCC Post Office Directory); two of those were housed in stores that were recently bought up by Weis, and the "grandfathered" CPUs were kept.

I've now been to four Weis CPUs. Here's an example of a postal counter in one:

Allentown, the third largest city in Pennsylvania, is positively bizarre in that it houses, in addition to its main office, five CPUs and JUST ONE classified branch. Why? I have no idea. Does it work? I intend to visit all of them soon to find out! Regardless, I got to Allentown's Branch #26 [CPU] at 6:30 at night, and found the CPU being very well used. A woman was mailing at least 20 [note to USPS: NON-FLAT RATE PRIORITY] parcels.

Here's the outside of the store:

This was location / CPU was formerly a King's Supermarket, for the record.

East Stroudsburg, PA: Weis Market CPU [formerly Mr. Z's Market]

State College, PA, which IS effectively the third-largest city in Pennsylvania when they're hosting a Penn State Nittany Lions football game, has two Weis Market CPUs -- one at either east/west end of town.

Weis Market #137 is located at the east side of town:

Weis Market #51 is south and west of Penn State:

See the Sonic Eagle?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old PO, New Life: East Greenwich, RI

By 2:00 I visited all 19 of my mapped-out south Providence-area post offices. Which means, in American Pickers lingo, that it's time for free-styling. Since the destination that evening was NYC, I headed south. My first idea for a place to stop at was the town of East Greenwich.

East Greenwich is Exit 8 off Rhode Island Route 4, and a reasonable way to hunt for a post office is to check downtown. As soon as I made a right off Main Street I found a striking building that could not be anything but a 1930s WPA post office:

In going inside I learned that the building has long served as a high-class Italian restaurant, although it has been closed since January 2011 for apparently interesting reasons. When I saw it this summer it was being remodeled, and from my understanding is expected to reopen. This building served as the post office from the Great Depression to the 1970s, at which point it moved to what someone told me was now the police station. In the 2000s it moved again, to a site in the outskirts of town.

Inside the entrance: Post Office Café.

There was no interior artwork. Below is the present East Greenwich Post Office site:

And here's a map:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Postal Tour: CPUs of Boston

(I don't anticipate this getting picked up by the major postal news aggregators, because with this entry I'm not trying to say anything substantial. It's just a related group of photos.)

Most of the older cities in America (New York, Philadelphia, Boston) were built with a high density of post offices, appropriate for the cities' high population densities and number of distinct communities. Within this infrastructure USPS tends to maintain fewer CPUs than, say, most large cities / suburbs of California, Arizona, or Florida, which were developed more recently and can have a massive proliferation of CPUs. (It's easier and cheaper to open a new contract unit than a new neighborhood classified station.)

Anyway, the Boston post office maintains five CPUs, only one of which is within Boston proper. That is, one is a contract station, and four are contract branches. (Once again, thank you PMCC Directory of Post Offices!) My stories aren't too exciting, and I have two papers due tomorrow, so I'll keep this quick. Last summer I visited four of the five:

Brighton, MA: CPU Melvin Pharmacy [a branch of Boston]

Malden, MA: Maplewood CPU [a branch of Boston]

A friendly place; positively bizarre that there is absolutely NO SIGNAGE indicating that this is affiliated with USPS whatsoever. At minimum CPUs at least have a Sonic Eagle logo in the window.

Belmont, MA: Shore Drug CPU [Boston, MA: Branch #33]

Waltham, MA: Brandeis University CPU [Boston, MA: Branch #23]
A part of Brandeis University Mail Services, located in the basement of its Usdan Student Center:

Bonus: Usen Castle, Brandeis University
Surely most readers will remember the four-stamp pane of Supreme Court Justices, one of which honored Louis Brandeis:

Brandeis University was also commemorated, for its 250th anniversary, on a 1998 20-cent postal card! It features the campus's historic Usen Castle, which I photographed while on campus.

The fifth CPU is located at the Cardinal Spellman Philatelic Museum in Weston. Still have to get out there!

Friday, October 21, 2011

On the Hit List: Newark, NJ

[I write this blog because I like the Postal Service and recognize the importance of brick-and-mortar post offices to communities across America. One hopes that is taken as a compliment. It is my view that the mass discontinuance of post offices and RAOI do more to damage the long-term viability and integrity of USPS than to save it.]

It is USPS's duty, by birthright, to properly serve every community in America. All of them; not just 'profitable' communities. The below offices are being STUDIED for closure, but the fact that these communities have to so much as go through the formal process of defending their right to their offices is, in my view, insulting. It is possible that RAOI, by sole virtue of its revenue thresholds, can tend to focus not only on small rural communities but also on poor urban communities (which often need their full-service facilities the most).

An ugly side effect of USPS's Headquarters-mandated Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) is that it's not just rural communities that must fight for their post offices' survival; a disproportionate number of poor urban communities must do so as well. It's surely not intentional, but I do think it can place undue burdens on many of these communities.

As part of the 3,650 post offices being studied as part of the minimal-money-saving initiative [0.3% of its annual operating budget], the following are being studied:
"384 stations and branches that earned fiscal year 2010 (FY) revenue of less than $600,000, that had FY 2010 revenue less than the average for FYs 2008 and 2009, and that are located within two miles of at least five postal retail and/or alternate access sites."

(Alternate Access primarily designates a store, like a Walgreen's or a bank, that will sell you a book of Bell stamps. That's it. Alternate Access locations are not post offices, and should not be thought of as a sufficient replacement there-for. Sometimes these locations are CPUs, which actually provide most services. That's a bit of a different story. VPOs do not.)

Once again, USPS subtitles the study Expanded Access -- but I read that more as code for "Many Fewer Post Offices".

All else equal, RAOI's revenue considerations mean that post offices in poorer communities are 'targeted'. Which is a real shame, because a post office in a poor community is quite often just as well used, if not moreso, than those in those more affluent areas. But there's a subtle difference amongst many of their customers' respective purchases, which I state after having observed countless postal retail transactions: Most stamp sales in more affluent communities are for a full book/pane of 20 stamps -- $8.80. Many in poor communities, believe it or not, cannot afford to purchase more than one stamp at a time. In many instances they have waited more than 20 minutes to buy just one stamp, so that they can mail the letter they hold in their hands. Of course the revenue for the post office in the poorer community is going to come up short/er. I've noticed that Money Orders tend to be more prevalent at poorer community POs; package shipping is universal.

Unfortunately, each of these communities now has to go to bat for their post office at public meetings as a part of RAOI studies that are [in my view] frequently a waste of time. (In what way would it be remotely responsible to, say, discontinue more than a third -- 17/45 -- of the post offices in The Bronx?) Let's look at what's going on in Newark, NJ, which already lost its Riverfront Plaza and Washington Park Stations earlier this year.

Whereas at the beginning of 2011 there were 10 post offices serving Newark, by the end of the year it's possible that there could be just FOUR.

(The star in the upper right represents a large processing facility that's being studied for closure.)

In 2005, there were 14 classified post offices in Newark. (Thank you, PMCC Post Office Directory!) This is excluding branches, which lie outside a city's corporate limits -- like Irvington, which is a separate city. Discontinued between 2005 and 2010 were the following: [Newark/Liberty] Airport Mail Center [07114, same as South Sta.]; West Station [07103, same as Springfield Ave.]; Broad Street Sta. [07102; same as the MPO, et al]; and Clinton Hill Station [07108, no longer served by a retail P.O.]. There were two CPUs, though there is just one now, north of North Station.

If all the RAOI offices were to be closed, Newark would be left with Springfield Ave., the MPO, and Ironbound holding up the middle, with one station north, and nothing serving Newark's southern communities. When you consider that Newark, as of the 2010 Census, has 277,140 people, even floating the idea of shuttering so many facilities is, to me, irresponsible at best. Fortunately, I doubt think it's actually going to happen -- at least not in its entirety... in which case the process would be an exercise in bureaucratic futility and a stretch of USPS's already thin dollars.

USPS might say it's sufficient to have five post offices OR stamp-selling banks lie within a two-mile radius of a given Newark facility [think: within a 12.6-square-mile circle centered about that point]. I disagree: the population density for Newark [excluding airports and seaports] is 21,000 people per square mile. And honestly, not everyone has the means to travel as many as 40 blocks should they want to purchase just one stamp.

The only reason I can think of that these locations ended up on the RAOI 'Hit List' is the revenue -- which, honestly, does comes down to the fact that the residents of Newark are poor. Again, I'm not saying USPS is targeting these locations because they're poor; it's just a consequence of the RAOI provisions, which is very unfortunate. Let's take a look at the numbers:
[As of] 2003, the median income for a household in the city is $26,913, and the median income for a family is $30,781. Males have a median income of $29,748 versus $25,734 for females. The per capita income for the city is $13,009. 28.4% of the population and 25.5% of families are below the poverty line. 36.6% of those under the age of 18 and 24.1% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line. The city's unemployment rate is 12%."

I suspect the numbers are even worse in these leaner times. Incidentally, do you think these folks can all afford the Internet access that the Postmaster General declares is putting USPS out of business?

So let's face it -- there more than a quarter of a million people in Newark, enough to be served by 8 or 10 post offices. From my experience at each of these facilities, witnessing firsthand how well-used they are, per-transaction revenue is likely the only reason that these offices could fall below beneath RAOI's thresholds. So it is unfortunate that the Postmaster General feels the need to have these people actively defend their communities' right to have a post office. (I don't believe that insulting the communities one serves, as well as telling one's own employees that you don't need them, is good business practice.)

Let's take an actual look at the locations in question:

Newark, NJ: South Station post office

Those cars were people there for the post office. 'Nuff said. Serves: South Newark, likely parts of Clinton Hill and even South Ironbound.

Newark, NJ: Vailsburg Station post office

A friendly location that's currently the only one serving west Newark. I'm sure some people come from east of the Garden State Parkway to visit this location as well.

Newark, NJ: Midtown Station post office
Believe it or not, I completely forgot to take a photo of this location while I was there. Probably because I was trying to figure out how to get my car back after it was towed during my time at the Newark MPO.

I'm rather certain this one's getting a raw deal. This location just absorbed the business of the Washington Park and Riverfront Plaza locations; RAOI involves past data. Forcing everyone to head over to the MPO would be an imposition on many, especially students and workers at NJIT and Rutgers: Newark. A half-mile is a reasonable distance between offices in a downtown of this size.

But hey, look at this USPSEverywhere inset -- it looks as though there are tons of postal services available around Midtown Station that could easily substitute for a discontinued post office location:

But let me annotate this a bit to make the situation a bit more clear:

I disagree that this constitutes sufficient postal services for this community; it looks more as though USPS mapped a slew of banks. (I'm sure Wells Fargo thanks them.) But by and large, this is what is referred to by Alternative Access: contracts with some national chains that will sell you bell stamps, but not really do anything more for you. [Once again, this is a bit simplistic and ignores CPUs, which tend to be in local businesses and whose services provided DO resemble those at a classified unit; but those are less common.] These stores are not post offices, but USPS lawyers would like to have you think they are; furthermore, AA locations are treated as such in some of their calculations that help to determine whether or not to close post offices.

Newark, NJ: Roseville Station post office

Roseville is a BIG community. This would be a devastating loss. There were no fewer than seven people either filling out forms or conducting transactions during the five minutes I was in the office (plus others picking up their box mail), so the study of this facility seems like a charade.

Looking at the USPSEverywhere around Roseville [the blue marker being the post office in jeopardy], a community that is not blessed with national chains:

You have one guess to figure out what the red marker is in the upper right. (Hint: It's a Wells Fargo.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beautiful Post Office: Montchanin, DE

Unfortunately I've been saturated with work and don't have the time to present a detailed entry right this moment. I've been working on a larger one regarding RAOI and its relationship to Newark, NJ. Regardless, I thought it might be nice to present this fantastic location in northern Delaware. Just outside of Wilmington, the Montchanin Post Office has been in operation since 1889 (though research on Postmaster Finder only dates back to 1944.)

The significance of this location is that the Hagley Museum and Library is right by the facility. While that name is not highly known, the name DuPont surely is. The 235 acres that presently house this Museum were where E. I. du Pont founded his gunpowder mill back in 1801. That is how the the family made its fortune!

The Museum site described: "This example of early American industry includes restored mills, a workers' community, and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family." It is a fun visit, and there are demonstrations of working aspects of the mill every half hour. One features a gunpowder explosion!

In any case, let's see what part of Delaware we're dealing with:

View Larger Map
The location looks rural, but Wilmington is just beyond those map boundaries.

According to this map, available at the Hagley Digital Archives, the mill itself did not possess a post office, but there was one nearby, known as Henry Clay Fact[ory] [see bottom]:

The Henry Clay Factory post office operated from 1851 to 1924.

So why do I say "Beautiful Post Office"? Because of its setting, located right on the Brandywine River. According to Reference Archivist Lucas Clawson at the Hagley Library:
The Montchanin Post Office "is located in Breck's Mill, which operated as a cotton mill through most of the 19th century. The DuPont acquired the property in the 1850s and later used it as a community center for the Henry Clay community. I'm not sure when the post office moved into the building but it was definitely not before the late 20th century."

Here is the site now:

(The water was brown due to a massive rainstorm that had hit the Wilmington / Philadelphia area the day before.) The building is also home to a gallery.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Postal Tour: Plainfield, NJ

You won't be seeing three of these places for long, I'm rather certain. Catch 'em while you can!

What you'll see below is a rather dense amalgam of post offices, each of which has historically served the Plainfield area for decades. There's a reason these locations exist to begin with. So what some might see as postal excess could also be viewed as providing astounding service to the residents of the Plainfield area -- something all organizations strive to provide its customers with in the best of times, and an aim the Postal Business Service should be striving for to maintain its customers in densely populated areas during these lean days.

So once we get a geographic fix, let's look at each of the post offices in the area and see if we can figure out why they're here and who they serve. I'll provide a first-hand account of my early-Friday afternoon visit to each of these locations. Afterwards we'll play a game I like to call "Guess which of these places actually served the most people while I was there!" The results will be enlightening, I'm sure.

Red: RAOI "Hit-Listed"; black: safe for the time being.

Plainfield, NJ: Main Post Office
A post office has served Plainfield since 1800. (USPS's Postmaster Finder tool corroborates this information.) Here is the view along the present building's Watchung Ave. length:

So when was this built? EBay features a postcard showing the "New" Plainfield Post Office, an item which dates back to World War I. It was mailed from Plainfield in late 1916, so it's reasonable to deduce that the building was constructed in 1915-6. The card, below:

The building still has old-style P.O. boxes (with the see-through windows) and features two murals, which one can be rather certain date to the Depression. The murals occupy either side of the main lobby, and one spans the entire wall above its PO Boxes. [Note: While I would love to share with you this glorious artwork, I request permission to take photographs of murals on the grounds that they are for my personal collection. USPS lawyers can actually get rather prickly about publishing them on copyright grounds. I do tempt fate an awful lot, but...]

On the commercially dense surrounding streets, all parking is metered. The post office maintains no customer parking lot. This is a reason that many of the area's poorer residents would prefer not to travel to this location, even if it's only a mile from their homes.

The Postmaster operates out of this Plainfield Main Post Office, and is responsible for all five other branches and stations detailed below (as well as its Warren Branch, which I haven't yet visited).

On the Hit List: North Plainfield, NJ Branch post office

I'd say this will most certainly be closed due to proximity to the Plainfield MPO [see map above.] A fine reason to be sure, but there are counterarguments all the same.

First off, why is there a post office here? For one thing, North Plainfield is not in the same county as Plainfield -- it is over in Somerset County, whereas Plainfield resides in Union County. So you're in a different county, with different governance... why wouldn't you have your own post office? The 2.8 square miles of the borough of North Plainfield house 21,000 people.

The borough of North Plainfield is concerned about losing its identity with the closure of its postal branch. Hence this message regarding USPS's already-held North Plainfield community meeting, on the borough's official website: "All North Plainfielders are URGED TO ATTEND! YOUR OPINION IS ESSENTIAL SO THAT THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE CAN DETERMINE HOW IMPORTANT THIS BRANCH IS TO OUR TOWN!"

It is likely that this post office would not be on the chopping block if USPS hadn't substantially shortened its hours. Currently the office is open from 12-4; anyone seeking to conduct postal business in the morning must head over to the Plainfield Main Post Office or to neighboring towns' facilities to the west. A sign detailing the office's current hours obscures what used to be: 9:00 - 4:30. A location that's designed to fail?

It's a one-clerk operation, for the record. And when I was there a customer purchased $44 in stamps. So: all told, deduce financially what you will.

Watchung, NJ Branch post office

"Well, if North Plainfield residents really want to stay in the same county, can't they go to the Watchung post office?? It's only a mile away!"

Actually... Route 22 is pretty good at precluding that kind of thing -- at least if they'd prefer to walk. It's a bit bizarre:

So, what we've got in Watchung is another four-hour office, though one that seems to have escaped RAOI. USPSEverywhere shows more than five retail access points within two miles (in the form of either full-service post offices or other random locations that sell stamps, which you're somehow expected to know about), so I'm guessing it's safe because it somehow rakes in over $600,000 a year despite its limited hours.

(Once again, if you're inside the office you can see behind the current hours of operation sign; the office USED to be open 8:30 - 4:30, instead of its present 11:00 - 3:00. Yet it still rakes in the dough; so why not offer full hours?)

On the Hit List: Plainfield, NJ: Muhlenberg Station post office

An office on a residential street, in a generally poor area, that was being HIGHLY used by locals when I was there. During the 12-or-so minutes I was there, SIX postal transactions occurred, not including my own.

The hours of this location are 10:00 - 4:00.

I briefly interviewed one limited-mobility resident -- who requires a cane to walk and who does so very slowly -- as she was leaving the post office (and yes, I held the door open for her!); she says that closure of the Muhlenberg Station would be a hardship for her because she lives right down the block. She can't drive. So even at a mere mile away, the Plainfield MPO is a prohibitive trek.

On the Hit List: Plainfield, NJ: Netherwood Station post office

Plainfield's stations and branches serve the residents who live outside the city's center -- generally one in each direction. You've got North Plainfield and Watchung to the (gee) north[west]; Muhlenberg to the south[east]; Station A (to be discussed) to the [south]west; and Netherwood to the [north]east. Plainfield has 50,000 residents -- not including North Plainfield and Watchung -- a healthy business district (served by the MPO), and residents in all directions. So it's really not all that unreasonable to be providing service all around.

Netherwood, another 10-4 office, is one more that doesn't seem to make USPS's new revenue cut -- which, once again, amounts to $600,000 a year in the urban instance. Which isn't to say it's unused; I'll reveal the customer number later.

Plainfield, NJ: Station A

The customer in front of me complimented the clerk of this Clinton Ave. post office for her polite manner. I asked her if that's a common occurrence, to which she replied that she enjoys serving her customers well. A good attitude to have, wouldn't you say? I hope that USPS's RAOI-instituting Upper-Upper Management takes that to heart.

The Grand Finale: How many customers were served by each post office during the author's time there [waiting in line, chatting, taking a photo outside]? Counts include customers served before me and/or after me, and do not include those picking up their PO Box mail. It's all to the best of my memory, of course.

Muhlenberg Station: 6 [~12 minutes]
Watchung Branch: 4 [~10 minutes]
Plainfield MPO: 3 [~12 minutes]
North Plainfield Branch: 2 + 1 entering [~7 minutes] -- includes a $44 stamp purchase
Station A: 2 [~7 minutes] -- to be fair, one of the customers was a whole family
Netherwood Station: 1 + 1 entering [~3 minutes]

Hope you enjoyed the tour!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Beautiful Post Office: Milton, PA

I couldn't help but share this architectural gem, which presently ranks among my favorite post offices. (This one is NOT being studied for closure, for the record.)

[Prologue: The Milton Post Office closes at noon on Saturdays. At 11:56 one recent weekend, a call went out from a certain 'postal tourist' currently in West Milton beseeching them to keep the window open for perhaps one and a half more minutes so that he could obtain a postmark for his collection in person in case he was just a wee bit late... Basically, I went got my postmark just before closing time.]

Upon my exit I noticed something incredibly uncommon: I was not the only person across the street from the post office taking photos of the building! This was an intriguing turn of events. I had to ask why. And I'm glad I did, because during a weekend whereupon I visited 119 POs, I could well have overlooked a few facets of this design.

As it turns out, an area gentlemen was taking his wife and two of their friends from China on an Art Deco architecture tour of central Pennsylvania -- everything from parks to post offices. This was a premier stop. Awesome. I was fortunate enough to be able to pick his brain to learn a few of the tidbits detailed in this entry.

The building is also a stop along the official Milton walking tour. There are three information sites near the building (one in front, and two across the street from), from which you can read the town's, the block's, and the post office's history. Quotes in this article are taken from said.

So, when was this place built? Unfortunately, the cornerstone is a bit worn and the date is not legible here:

But, an information site across the street tells that it was built in 1934. Called for by the town as early as 1925, it took a very long time for the building to come together in its present form. Every detail that currently makes the building a standout had to be meticulously fought for by local officials who wanted to honor their town by building it a post office that was the grandest among its peers. The Post Office Department had not wanted to build Milton a new post office at all; several local civic leaders eventually won approval for the post office that they boasted would be "superior to that of any town in the country comparable in size to Milton". (The town's current population: 6,350.) I'll present below absolutely phenomenal architectural facets that were obtained only at insistence of said local leaders that do indeed make this a fantastic post office, as well as an architectural gem in its own right.

Here's another view of the full office. See if you can pick out something unusual from beneath the windows.

I'm sure this appears on many Depression-era designs, but I've never noticed this before. The brickwork motif underneath the windows was fascinating:

I asked the tour guide what they symbolized: It's the productivity of America, embodied in a field of stalks of wheat. There are agriculturally productive rural areas in this part of Pennsylvania.

It's worth noting that, according to the information site across the road, "[architect] Henry Sternfield decided custom made bricks, a quarter inch larger in all dimensions, would be used" throughout the building. This was to be symbolic of the grandeur of the facility. The P.O. Department balked but quickly gave in to this first of three atypical design requests that would require ever more convincing.

The third request [I'll return to #2], was rejected by the P.O. Department out of hand: The architect insisted that the history of mail service be carved in stone on the post office's parapet [just below the top]. There were to be five carved stones in all, to be done by a master carver in Philadelphia. One of the local civic leaders, Walter Wilson, "personally paid for the custom carvings, which included the pony express, a truck, plane, locomotive, and ship."

I took close-ups [albeit from across the street] of each of these stones. They are presented in architectural order [from left to right]:

(This motif has been presented on other post offices. One such location that I might post about is the grand Passaic, NJ MPO.)

Most astounding are the details above the door. This is detailed, again, on the post office history placard across the street:

Sternfield's design called for a unique plaque to be placed over the entrance doors. Once again, after a special trip to Washington, negotiators got their way and the plaque was commissioned. It includes a map of Milton, the West Branch of the Susquehanna, [and] both islands, the great seal of the United States, the points of the compass, and two Indian heads. The words Milton, Pennsylvania, just over the revolving doorway and below the plaque, were not originally supposed to be there either. Again the Postal Department was talked into approving it.

Here is the whole plaque:

Close-up of the map:

Is this a class act or what? This an exemplary example of what the Post Office meant to communities across America since before the dawn of the country.

Compare the town of Milton's historical attitude to what we're being insisted upon by Washington is the social irrelevance of this American institution. Once again, the post office is a mark of local pride. So please (I'm looking at you, USPS Upper-Upper Management), stop stripping post offices away from the communities that want them and especially from those that truly need them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Updates on Old Favorites

New readers might not know that it's my mission to photograph [and get postmarks from] as many U.S. post offices as humanly possible, for historic and archival purposes. Why? Originally, it was a way of documenting my cross-country travels and served a gift for my postmark-collecting father. Now it's because five years (... months?) from now, so many of these places won't be around. Post offices will disappear and so too will so many of these towns. Unfortunately, top-level USPS keeps trying to make my life easier by stripping away all the small, rural, and interesting offices with actual character -- the ones most reflective (and most necessary to the survival) of their communities.

(Why Donahoe is looking to destroy his organization is still beyond me. Have you ever heard the phrase "death by a thousand cuts"? Think 3.7 thousand cuts, and plenty more where those came from.)

This journal was started back in Sept. 2010, with a few entries from my favorite parts of the country: Hawaii, Manhattan, and Wyoming. Let's see where we stand on some old favorites now.

Big Island, Small Office -- Nīnole and ‘Ō‘ōkala, Hawai'i.
Both locations are open three or fewer hours a day, so why aren't they on the RAOI study list? Because they're actually CPOs -- Community Post Offices [a type of CPU], formerly Rural Branches, which means the towns once had an independent post office, but they're now run under contract. These locations are exempt from RAOI, though CPOs have been generally disappearing at a high rate.

Remember: CPOs, a concept around for decades, while not as preferable as an independent Post Office, are a thousand times better than the Village Post Office sham. At least CPOs offer near-full services! They even have things like, gee, scales to actually weigh stuff on!

Some really photogenic CPOs: Fire Island, NY.

'Appraising' An Obscure Office in Manhattan -- New York, NY: Appraisers' Store Station
One of the oddest post offices you'll ever see, three blocks south of Rockefeller Center in the fourth floor of a generally secure building, Appraisers owes its existence to the diamond jewelers downstairs. This post office accepts only Registered Mail, sometimes insured via private insurance into the multi-million-dollar range. There's a reason USPS made this post office, and it's so jewelers wouldn't have to wait in line at Rockefeller Center, or leave their bullion lying around in an APC. This facility has already had its public meeting, but anyone who would like to defend its existence still can; contact information at that link.

As Rural as it Sounds -- Recluse and northeastern Wyoming
You'll be disappointed to know that three out of the four post offices shown in this entry -- Recluse, Leiter, and Arvada, are all on RAOI. I might make another Wyoming entry soon.

A Tale of Two Antlers -- Antler[s], Saskatchewan and North Dakota
Antler, ND is on the RAOI Hit List.

On the Hit List: Long Island Processing Plants
Figured this could use a jump back to the front page, since there's been a great influx of visitors from postal news sites! And yes, lawyers, I was on public streets, so this is all perfectly legal. If you doubt this, look at Google Street View.

It's Only Lodge-ical -- Post offices in ski lodges in MA and PA.
Skytop and Pocono Manor, PA are on the RAOI Hit List, and I suspect both will be gone shortly. Hancock, MA is a CPO and is thus not part of the study.

Not Just NE-Where -- stories from a slice of Nebraska
Of course, the one with the most character, Nehawka [click on thumbnail 3], is on the RAOI chopping block.

Hope you new readers enjoy the site!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Last Day: Pine Hill, NJ

As of noon today, I hold a claim to 'fame' that only 100,000 people can match: I was the last-ever customer at a discontinued U.S. Post Office. I can prove it, too: My receipt was [non-postally] certified by the supervisor on hand. (The author is also responsible for the last letter mailed from the post office, as well as the last use of its postmarking device. Of interest to postmark collectors only, perhaps.)

Normally the post office was operated a solitary clerk; when I visited she was accompanied by a supervisor from the Clementon parent office, who was assisting in the take-down of interior signage, and a South Jersey District officer on close-out duty with backroom computers. I'm guessing this is standard last-day protocol. (I've only been to one Last-Day prior to this.)

The last purchase at the Pine Hill Branch post office of Clementon, NJ was a throw-together of four scraps of Purple Heart stamps numbering 18 in all, sold at 11:54 a.m., for a grand total of $7.92. Perhaps the purchase is fitting: the stamps honor some of America's greatest heroes, wounded in the line of duty. This post office served its organization and its country with aplomb, a casualty of USPS's relentless push toward retail minimization. It will now be memorialized in this blog.

Clementon, NJ: Pine Hill Branch post office [located at 820 Erial Rd.]:

It was a quaint post office with old-style PO boxes. I'd say about 60 seemed to be in use all-in-all. The office was open a mere two hours a day during the week: 10 am to noon, and sported a full four-hour Saturday; it's unlike the overwhelming majority of offices, which maintain fewer, if any, Saturday hours. (It reminded me of the fact that hybrid cars generally get greater gas mileage in the city than on the highway, as opposed to the other way around.)

I'm not sure whether declining revenue spurred the decrease in hours, or whether the decrease in hours diminished the intake. (See "You designed a system to make the post office fail; Gwynedd, PA.")

Two-hour offices are an increasing rarity in the U.S. Postal system, and virtually all of them are currently being considered for closure. I was told that Pine Hill had maintained such short hours for a while.

The postmark collector in me is obligated to report that the office's sole dating device was a worn round dating postmark, with the tops of the two Ls in 'Hill' broken off, as well as the entire letter J in 'NJ'. I'll choose to think of it as authentic. It was of the non-self-inking variety.

Pine Hill was a branch of Clementon and shared its ZIP code [08021] with said, as well as with Laurel Springs and Lindenwold. I'll show photos of both branches later; the Lindenwold post office was discontinued earlier this year.

[Side of the Pine Hill PO:]

Customers will now head over to the Clementon Main Post Office on Berlin Road, located in a strip mall. Driving distance: 1.5 miles.

Clementon, NJ post office:

I then trekked on over to the former site of Clementon's Lindenwold Branch post office, which was discontinued earlier this year. I believe the closing date was indeed January 28, 2011. The space, at 788 Emerson St., is still vacant, though two blue collection boxes still grace the former site.

[Discontinued:] Clementon, NJ: Lindenwold Branch post office:

The former site is 1.2 miles from the Clementon Main Office. (Aside: At least in that shopping area in which I stood, the community seemed largely Latino.)

Finally, we have Laurel Springs, which was rather hopping with about four customers when I was there:

Clementon, NJ: Laurel Springs Branch post office

No big treks for the author this weekend; thank the inherent responsibility of grad school. Until next time!