Sunday, November 8, 2009

A new meaning to going postal

The United States Postal Service is in financial trouble. Have you heard? Even if you haven't read the details, you've probably seen the evidence of this at your local post office.

The first time I knew things were seriously awry, I arrived at my local post office in Virginia to find that it no longer opened at 8:30 a.m. It was opening at 9, closing at 4:30 and closing during the lunch hour, supposedly just for the summer. Then the changes were announced as permanent. None of these changes make much sense for customers who happen to have jobs. Try getting away from work at mid-morning or mid-afternoon to mail a care package to the kids at college or a Christmas present to someone far away. And try to imagine the lines during those shortened hours as the holiday season approaches.

When I returned later on the same day, at mid-afternoon, I discovered that most of the place was in the dark. The only lights functioning were in the lobby and directly over the counter. Yet another cost-cutting measure. The whole place was eerily silent.

A few days later, a friend who handles bulk permit mailings for his church was sputtering with outrage. The local post office would no longer accept the mailings. He'd have to drive them to the next county, wasting time and gas. The logic of this one completely eludes me, so if some postmaster somewhere reads this, please explain it.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I concluded that this had something to do with the post office being in a smaller, more rural location. I didn't anticipate these kind of changes carrying over to a major metropolitan area, but I was wrong.

On Friday, I went to my local post office in Miami at 8:30, only to discover that it too wasn't opening till 9. I was annoyed, but not shocked. I was running errands off of my island, so went to another post office in another community. By then it was after 9. That post office wasn't scheduled to open until 10 a.m. On my third try, I found a post office that was actually open and -- surprise, surprise -- very busy. When I commented to the clerk that driving around to three different post offices to find one open was enough to force me to send all of my packages via FedEx, he said, "Sure, if you want to pay more." I explained the concept of customer service and added that my time is a whole lot more valuable than whatever cost difference might arise. I don't think he got it. Let me add that I just bought nearly $1,800 worth of stamps for my next postcard mailing, so I'm not really the kind of customer they should want to lose.

I mentioned all of this to a friend up in Virginia yesterday and she, dealing with those inconvenient, shortened hours there, went on a rant of her own. She said a nearby community had officially blown a fuse over the new hours and they'd been changed back. Ours had not been, quite probably because no town official had taken on the postal service.

I understand the need to take sometimes drastic cost-cutting measures in tough economic times, but does it make sense to anyone to make things so inconvenient for customers that they look for other ways of conducting business? I think I could actually accept the idea of mail delivery on only five days of the week, rather than these erratic cutbacks of hours that seem to vary from location to location.

I'd love to hear what's happening in your community, especially if you live in a rural area. Has your local branch closed, cut hours, turned out the lights? Click on comments below or email me directly at Sherryl703@gmail.com.

Sherryl Woods

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