Residents deal with reduced hours at rural post offices

Friday, February 15, 2013
"No news is good news," said Earl Amelunke as he bends over to find his Post Office box empty Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 in Gordonville. Effective Jan. 26, the Gordonville Post Office reduced their retail hours to Mon. through Fri. from 10a.m. to 2p.m., and Sat. from 10a.m. to 11:45a.m. (Laura Simon)

Dustin Schmidt's house in rural Dutchtown isn't included on any postal delivery route. Last year, the post office where he picks up his mail was studied for closure, along with thousands nationwide, to reduce costs. Instead, to his relief, its hours were reduced.

Dutchtown's was one of about 3,700 of the nation's smallest post offices saved from closing after customers who wanted to preserve their addresses and community identities asked the U.S. Postal Service to consider alternatives. The Postal Service developed the "Post Office Structure Plan," or POStPlan, through which hours were shortened at more than 13,000 offices throughout the country. An estimated $500 million per year is expected to be saved once the plan is fully implemented by September 2014. In Cape Girardeau County, there will be amended services at nine locations, instead of closing four.

Schmidt lives across the road from the tiny Dutchtown post office, which is housed in a corner of an out-of-business convenience store and bait shop. He said he was happy not to have to travel to another town to retrieve his mail and glad not to lose the community hub.

"It's needed, really. Everything goes on here," Schmidt said.

Doyle Parmer, Dutchtown clerk, said residents receive a free post office box since there are no delivery routes. About 94 people live in the village, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

The new POStPlan retail hours are based solely on revenue and the number of retail transactions, said Richard Watkins, Postal Service spokesman in Kansas City, Mo. Customers still can access post office boxes and the lobby when the retail window is closed.

Watkins said that nearly 40 percent of total Postal Service retail revenue comes from sources other than traditional brick-and-mortar post offices, such as grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, bank ATMs and online services at usps.com. Last year, that figure was 35 percent.

Tracey McElreath said she doesn't really like Dutchtown's new hours, which took effect last week. Similar to many post offices its size, it is now open from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, which makes it hard for people who work in the morning, she said. The post office is an important place for residents to connect and the people who work there learn what customers want and need.

"It's personal," McElreath said. "You can't talk to a box."

At the Gordonville post office, about 4 1/2 miles away, hours were reduced at the end of January. It is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Saturdays to serve the village of 391 residents.

"The hours are just right, that's fine," said Charlie Skelton, who said he hadn't been affected much by the change.

Another Gordonville resident, Earl Amelunke, said it was a bit of an inconvenience, but people would get used to it.

"I'm just proud that we still got it here," Amelunke said.

In a related cost-savings strategy, the Postal Service announced last week it plans to discontinue Saturday delivery of mail in August, except for packages. Post offices will remain open Saturdays.

Though federally regulated, the Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. The bulk of its financial problems come from a 2006 law requiring it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the last fiscal year, lower than the previous year. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, Postal Service officials say.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

10469 Highway 25, Dutchtown, Mo.

5850 Highway 25 Gordonville, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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