The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General released a report last week that suggests many rural post offices could be saved if they are allowed to become business hubs that offer new services such as public Internet access. The report on the 21st Century Post Office: Non-Postal Products and Services suggests ways post offices could increase revenue. It is the flip side of other postal service plans to cut expenses, which has resulted in hundreds of smaller post offices being permanently shut down. That’s what happened in LaFayette, one of Christian County’s smallest incorporated towns.
LaFayette is a good place to consider if you want to think about what’s lost when a post office closes. The drive from LaFayette to Hopkinsville takes about 20 minutes, so residents of the South Christian town have lost a convenience that cannot be replaced if they need to buy stamps, keep a secure post office box and send and receive packages. Some older residents in rural places prefer to get their mail, including checks and medication, at a post office. The mail box at the end of the driveway is not as secure. Also, there are still many forms of personal and business correspondence, along with package delivery and commerce, that rely on the U.S. Postal Service. You can’t tweet or email a real letter or package. That still matters.
There’s also the delivery of printed media, which explains why this newspaper and many others oppose eliminating Saturday deliveries. Many of the country’s community newspapers are distributed through the mail.
Many Americans also oppose post office closures because they value a sense of place. One of them is Steve Hutkins, who runs an Internet blog called “Save the Post Office.” Hutkins is a professor at New York University, where he teaches “place studies.” He says he has no affiliation with the postal service. He’s trying to stop closures because he likes his local post office in the Hudson Valley region.
Hutkins has this quote, from former U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph, of West Virginia, on his website: “When the post office is closed, the flag comes down. When the human side of government closes its doors, we’re all in trouble.”
It’s true that post offices are the heart of many communities. Following school consolidations, they were the last public buildings in many towns.
There’s something reassuring about a post office. Even on those days when the Hopkinsville Post Office has only one postal clerk working at the counter and the line is snaked through the double doors into the front lobby, I kind of enjoy standing there and listening to people’s stories. I’ve seen old high school classmates recognize each other in the Hopkinsville line and strike up a conversation that bridges the 30 or so years they’ve been apart. People have given me story ideas in the post office line.
Of course, the post office does not exist for social reasons. The financial burden is real.
That’s why the inspector general’s report is getting the attention of people who want to transform post offices.
In addition to public Internet access, the report lists several possible ways to expand services that could increase traffic and revenue in post offices. The inspector general studied foreign postal systems and asked for suggestions from local postmasters.
The ideas include:
- Services from other federal agencies.
- Banking services.
- State government services such as selling hunting and fishing licenses.
- Fax and photocopying services.
If you’ve seen the number of people who rely on Internet services at public libraries in Hopkinsville and other towns, it’s not difficult to understand how that service could benefit places like LaFayette.
You can read the inspector general’s report at this website: http://www.uspsoig.gov/foia_files/DA-MA-12-005.pdf
JENNIFER P. BROWN is the New Era’s opinion editor. Reach her at email@example.com or 270-887-3236.