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Rose Black drops her mail into the delivery slot at Cluster Springs Post Office. The retail window hours at the location have been reduced as part of a nationwide effort of the USPS to save costs. Drakes Branch, Wyliesburg, Skipwith, and Burkeville are currently in the process.
SoVaNow.com / July 28, 2014
Rose Black of Cluster Springs was worried that she may have run out of time to get the birthday card into the mail for her grandson, Jack Black. The card, a bit larger than most greeting cards, needed the proper postage from the United States Postal Service. It was almost mid-afternoon before she had a break from her errands that she was able to drive over to her local Cluster Springs Post Office, which has offered two-hour retail window service from 1-3 p.m. since April 22. “The afternoon hours are hard to remember when,” she said.

With a few minutes to spare before 3 p.m., a sigh of relief, and a helpful USPS clerk, she was able to get the right postage and put the card in the mail.

However, if Black had missed the Cluster Springs Post Office window service hours, she would have needed to drive an additional eight miles in one direction to the South Boston Post Office to mail her grandson’s birthday card. That would have meant finding parking at the busy intersection of N. Main Street and Broad Street and climbing the front steps of the South Boston Post Office.

For 81-year-old George S. Haymes, who walks with a wooden cane, the front steps at the South Boston Post Office are cumbersome. “Well, you know, they’ve fixed the steps, but it’s still a problem for those of us, who, you know, have a cane.

“I would like to see a handicap ramp built there,” Haymes said.

South Boston Post Office does have a ramp located next to its delivery dock at the back of the aging facility. Although the signage on the door says “No Admittance. Employees Only,” the ramp presumably does provide people with disabilities access to the front counter window service through the postal working area where the mail is processed.

Limited public parking is also available in the back, with the entrance located on the left near the stoplight on N. Main Street and exiting on the right onto Broadway.

For those who are mailing care packages to loved ones serving in the military or even a birthday card to a grandchild, the U.S. Post Offices sometimes are the only choice for delivery.

In 2011, the Postal Service continued to face crushing financial losses and needed to find new strategies in cost savings. “In May 2012, the Postal Service announced a new strategy to preserve the nation’s smaller Post Offices by keeping them open, but with modified window hours,” stated Tad Kelley, spokesperson for the USPS, Appalachian District in an email.

Over the last two years, the Postal Service has been attempting to mitigate costs through consolidation of processing centers and the reduction of retail window hours for rural Post Office locations. The Roanoke’s Processing and Distribution Center is expected to consolidate with Greensboro P&DC in 2015. The nationwide consolidation effort is projected to save approximately $750 million per year once implemented.

Crystal Hill and Cluster Springs have already implemented the USPS realignment of hours. Wyliesburg and Drakes Branch are currently going through the process.

Drakes Branch Post Office, which sent out 903 customer surveys, held its public meeting on July 8. The retail window service hours presented were Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. with a lunch hour from 1-2 p.m. and Saturday hours from 8 a.m.-noon. The hours decision has not been made final. Of the 225 surveys returned, 81 percent were in favor of the shorter hours, 8 percent preferred the delivery option, 4 percent preferred the nearby Post Office Option, and 8 percent did not make a selection.

No one who completed the survey selected the Village Post Office as an option. The USPS explained that a VPO would be located within the community at a local retailer, library, town hall or government center and the proprietor or management would run the facility. The VPO would include P.O. boxes, stamps, and pre-paid Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes.

Approximately seven miles away at the Wyliesburg Post Office, 150 customer surveys were mailed and 45 were returned before a public meeting was held on July 8. Ninety-one percent preferred the realignment of hours. The proposed hours were Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. until noon. The final decision has not been made.

According to the USPS, the realignment of hours will allow Post Office locations to remain open which in turn allows the towns’ ZIP Code and identity to be retained. The two-year process to finalize the plan for more than 13,000 Post Offices identified based on customer use was expected to be completed in September. The timeline for the plan, known as the Post Plan, has been extended until early January. The USPS estimates a savings of half-billion dollars annually.

Congressman Robert Hurt said, “While it is imperative that Congress act on Postal Service reform that returns the USPS to solvency, any such reform must reflect and support the importance of our rural Post Offices. I remain committed to working on behalf of the affected localities to ensure that they are not disproportionately impacted by USPS activity, and will work with my congressional colleagues to ensure a favorable outcome for all involved.”

USPS community meetings have also been set for the Skipwith Post Office on July 31 at 12:30 p.m. and the Baskerville Post Office on July 31 at 3 p.m.

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