By C.V. Moore
For some communities in rural northern Fayette County, like Winona, the local post office is the only landmark left.
“We people from Winona, that’s really the only thing that’s left there,” says Leah Briggs.
“A lot of people need that post office to socialize and talk,” says Anna Berry. “It’s a gathering place.”
No wonder Winona residents breathed a sign of relief on Thursday when they learned their post office will not close, as some expected. Its window hours will be cut back to 2 hours per day on weekdays; their neighbors in Lookout fared a little better, with hours expected to drop to 4 per day.
Briggs and others gathered at the Mt. Olive United Methodist Church on Thursday evening to hear the results of a survey distributed by the U.S. Postal Service about a month ago asking residents to choose between four options aimed at scaling back services and, ultimately, saving money.
“I realize everyone would like to keep the post office open exactly like it is now,” says Vickey Bramble, manager of post office operations for the area. “But the post office is at its wit’s end to stay viable.”
With a $13 billion loss last year and a 27 percent drop in retail visits since 2005, the Postal Service announced in July of 2011 that nearly 3,700 post offices nationwide would be studied for closure.
Such was the case for the facilities in Winona and Lookout.
But after overwhelming public outcry across the country, officials devised a new strategy called Post Plan, designed to preserve rural post offices by modifying retail hours to match customer use.
Residents were given options including reduced hours, rural delivery, a village post office, or closure.
Seventy-eight percent of the 50 Winona residents who returned surveys selected to scale back the post office hours, while 22 percent chose a delivery option.
Obviously beloved by the community, Pauline Ramsey, Winona’s postal clerk, was present at the meeting.
“We want to keep Pauline,” Berry told Bramble.
After the meeting, Ramsey admitted that the post office probably didn’t need to be open 8 hours a day.
“Four hours would have been great,” she says. “Two hours is OK. I can deal with that. Just don’t take it away.”
The Postal Service proposes new hours in Winona as following: Monday through Friday from 1:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. and Saturday from 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
At the meeting, residents discussed whether the new proposed hours would meet their community’s needs.
They decided they would prefer morning hours from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. because the mail is delivered at 9:15 a.m. and some were worried that if it sat unguarded in the post office it might fall prey to thieves looking for drugs or valuables.
Bramble said she will pass along the feedback to higher-ups.
A lively group from Lookout, home to the smallest 8-hour post office in the district, attended a community meeting directly afterward.
“None of us want to see a post office close, any more than a school or a church in the community,” says Russell Bennett.
“Why don’t some of them (Postal Service executives) come around, the big cheese? That’s who’s getting the gravy,” chimed in Wallace “Baldy” Carmichael.
“Tax the Internet,” cried another, referring to the losses the Postal Service has seen due to a surge in online communication.
Lonnie Parrish, a postal carrier, urged his neighbors to send bills the old fashioned way, with stamps.
“Save a job, buy a stamp,” he says.
In Lookout, 86 of 314 surveys were returned. Eighty-seven percent of residents preferred changing the hours; 2 percent chose a delivery option; 5 percent chose to use a nearby post office; and 6 percent made no selection.
The new hours proposed are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Citizens in Lookout likewise hailed their postal mistress, Cindy Rader.
“There isn’t anyone in here who doesn’t know Cindy Rader is an angel,” said one.
It was to Rader they turned when trying to decide whether the proposed hours were best for the community. She suggested 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. so that people will be able to get to the bank to deposit checks.
Bramble will likewise take this suggestion back to headquarters, as well as a request that postal lockers be installed for retrieving packages when the window is closed.
“Everybody loves their postmaster. They are usually their friend, their neighbor, their niece. So it’s tough,” she says.
Bramble says people identify with their post office, as well as their postmaster.
“People don’t want to change it. They want to keep their community identity and it’s important to them,” she says.
“If they don’t give them to us we’re striking and picketing,” says Bennett.
Bramble says the Postal Service is also pursuing other options for saving money, including cutting jobs at headquarters, regional offices, and post offices. They will also continue to consolidate processing centers and are considering scaling back to a 5-day delivery schedule.
Access to post office boxes in both towns will not change. A resident may be responsible for locking and unlocking the lobby, automatic timed locks may be installed, or residents may be given keys to the lobby door.
The Postal Service will make its final decision on the operating hours of the two post offices this week. In 30 days, a notice will be posted as to when the new hours will take effect.
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