St. Paul residents object to proposed closure of local post office

Residents of the Payne-Phalen neighborhood said they’re not letting their post office go without a fight.

Several dozen people voiced their objections to the proposed closure of the Seeger Square post office at a public hearing held by the Postal Service last night. Some criticized the Postal Service for not issuing any public hearing notices in a foreign language, particularly given that 39 percent of neighborhood residents speak a language other than English.

“Seeger Square serves one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the whole of Minnesota. Correct?” said Leslie McMurray, an organizer with the Payne-Phalen District Planning Council.

The crowd answered with a resounding yes. McMurray scanned the mostly white, elderly crowd. “And yet this group is not as diverse as our community.”

Many said the proposal was the latest blow to a low-income neighborhood that has struggled to attract jobs and basic services.

“The fact that this area is being considered is adding insult to injury,” said state Rep. John Lesch. “I know that many people aren’t here because they feel like, well, it’s just going to happen. They feel like a dog that’s been beat too much, to quote a Bruce Springsteen line.”

However, the Postal Service says it’s running out of money and doesn’t have many options left. Earlier in the day, it reported losing $5.1 billion last year.

The Seeger Square post office, at 896 Arcade Street, is just one of 3,652 post offices marked for possible closure or consolidation. The list includes nearly 100 post offices in Minnesota.

Postal Service employee Margaret Campbell began the hearing by recounting the Postal Service’s financial woes — a decrease in mail volume, a dispute with federal lawmakers over pension payments, and the burden of meeting federal requirements without receiving any tax money.

“As dismal as it sounds to say, we are in a crisis,” she said.

The closure of the Seeger Square post office would save about $216,000 a year, Campbell said. The post office does not have any mail carriers and is used entirely for P.O. boxes and retail sales.

Customers can use the post office at 1425 E. Minnehaha Avenue (1.6 miles away) or avoid the post office entirely and instead buy stamps from local banks and grocery stores, she said. (Rainbow Foods, the grocery store next to the Seeger Square post office, already sells stamps.)

Campbell wasn’t convincing anyone – and she said she didn’t expect she would. At one point, someone in the audience suggested asking everyone who thinks the post office should stay open to raise their hands. Every hand was up in the air within seconds.

As far as the complaint that the Postal Service did not post hearing information or send out notices in any foreign languages, Campbell had this to say:

Headquarters does not, um, does not provide us with that option. And frankly, it would be impossible for us to figure out which household to send which language to.

This comment was met with laughter and comments from several people that it wouldn’t be that hard to print the information in several languages on the same notice.

Some attendees had suggestions for how to improve the Postal Service. One woman asked, “Why don’t they, instead of having all these fancy stamps, just go to one common stamp?”

Campbell replied, “I think the collectors would probably disagree with you on that. Stamp collecting is still one of the major hobbies in the world, and actually, stamp collectors more or less give us the money because they never use those stamps.”

Another woman suggested the Postal Service consider using a mobile post office, similar to a bookmobile, that could make up for the loss of a permanent station. Several Postal Service employees said they’re considering that and think it’s a good idea, although they cautioned that the mobile service would probably struggle to be as consistent as they would like.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposal. After that, the Postal Service will provide public notice of its final decision within 30 days. It then has to wait at least another 60 days before closing the office.

Campbell cautioned that the Postal Service has not yet decided which offices to close. She reviewed the three criteria for including a post office on the potential closure/consolidation list. The criteria include:

1. Offices with $27,500 or less in annual retail revenue AND less than two work hours per day. (This criteria is meant to focus on the smaller rural offices.)

OR

2. Offices with $600,000 or less in annual retail revenue AND 5 or more alternate access points within 2 miles. “Alternate access points” are defined as places where customers can buy stamps – like at a bank or grocery store. A store does not need to accept packages or offer other services to be considered to be an “alternate access point.”

OR

3. Offices with $1 million or less in annual retail revenue AND 5 or more “alternate access points” within 5 miles.

The Seeger Square office falls into criteria #2.

What do you think? Given the financial problems facing the Postal Service, is it reasonable to ask that customers share the burden of cutbacks?