For the Postal Service, its all about location – just not as many

When Vonda Bundy first heard the United States Postal Service was going to close her local post office she felt … indifferent.

The 51-year-old D.C. resident had been purchasing stamps and supplies online for years now, and the idea of the 9th street branch shutting down wasn’t a problem for her.

But after Bundy’s son moved away to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, she started using the post office more – mailing letters and care packages to her 20-year-old son.

“For me right now its good to have a post office since my son is in Richmond,” Bundy said. “There is another one I can use but this is more convenient.

In many ways, Bundy is a microcosm of the technological and generational shift facing a United States Post Office struggling with declining revenues even before the most recent recession forced a decline of more than 12 percent in mail volume.

The Postal Service is looking to close 241 more branches this year to help streamline costs, and with six of those locations inside Washington D.C., residents might have to say goodbye to a resource they had for years taken for granted – the neighborhood post office.

Sandwiched between Marshall’s Funeral Home and Emerald Medical Service, the post office at 4211 9th Street, NW has just one teller window and limited resources, but for Al Hatch it’s a convenient location he sees as filling an important need.

He said the first few days of every month is busy with people on government assistance using the post office to help pay bills, send money and pick up forms.

“It’s a small post office, it’s out of the way and it’s convenient,” Hatch said. The 49-year-old uses it after work, and said that if this location gets shut down, the closest one to him would be a post office on Georgia Avenue – one of the other locations to get the axe.

He points to money orders and bill payment methods as reasons to keep post offices in low-income areas open.

Kobie Nichols, 36, doesn’t think the post office should close just because people are purchasing fewer stamps. As a member of the District’s advisory neighborhood commission surrounding the 9th Street post office, he talks with residents every day about the neighborhood.

“I think you have to have a location because its not just about mailing things,” Nichols said. He said that more than 60 percent of the residents in the area are more than 60 years old, and many are not tech-savvy enough to use the Internet.

“That alone makes me think we need a post office in this area,” Nichols said, adding that he could see the post office closing in another 10 years, once the residents catch up with the technology.

But officials at the Postal Service and the Government Accountability Office have said that there might not be that much time before the organization hits the maximum it is allowed to borrow. With a deficit of more than $3 billion for 2009 and more projected into the future, everything from cutting locations, changing service hours and dropping Saturday delivery is on the table.

For a slideshow of the Postal Service’s financial situation, click here.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., the chairman of the House subcommittee on federal workforce, the postal service and the District of Columbia, said the Postal Service needs to find a way to reduce costs while maintaining customer service, and that closing some locations are just a natural part of that process.

“So it makes sense to first look at reducing the 37,000 postal facilities that we currently have and figure out which ones can be consolidated to reduce cost while maintaining service,” Lynch said.

Even though the Postal Service is looking at cutting 241 locations, it won’t even scratch the service of an organization that has more locations than McDonalds, Subway and Wal Mart combined. Lynch said that even more fundamental changes are on the table to help the Postal Service in the future.

“Our Subcommittee will continue to provide close oversight of the Postal Service, including an in-depth examination of the Postal Service’s business model to help determine which longer-term changes are necessary to help the Postal Service return to financial viability,” Lynch said.

But what John Robertson sees is the closing of a neighborhood service in an area that truly needs it. The 51-year-old Petworth resident called the potential closing of the local post office “an absolute atrocity.”

“Why would you close the only post office that we have in this neighborhood?” Robertson said.