Post Office wins and woes

Good news for Charles Street Station.

It is not on this year’s list of nine post offices around Boston that the postal service is considering closing. Six of the potential closures are at colleges or universities—Harvard, BU, BC, MIT, Tufts and Babson. The others are at Faneuil Hall, Nonantum in Newton, and Logan Airport.

So is our post office safe?

For now.

But it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on. The Charles Street Station is small, with only three clerks at a time and 19 individual mailboxes, and there are bigger post offices in the Back Bay and on New Chardon Street within a 20-minute walk of most of us. Is Charles Street Station is profitable? To find out we’d have to file a freedom of information act request, said postal service spokeswoman Ann Powers. Profitability and customer counts are proprietary information.

Getting results from a FOIA request typically takes weeks, even months, a longer lead time than I generally allot for writing a column, so I can’t provide you with that information now—but guess what I’m going to do, just in case.

Even if Charles Street Station is profitable, it might not persuade the powers that be that it should remain open. Bob Dempsey, vice president of the American Postal Workers Union, Boston Metro Area Local, questioned postal service officials’ rationality in making closing decisions. He pointed out that except for the Logan Airport post office, those on the potential closing list are profitable, bringing in from $100,000 to $380,000 annually. Why, he asked, would you close post offices that are profitable?

Powers said the profitable post offices are on the list because they redundant—well served by other nearby post offices. For example, MIT is near the large Central Square post office. She predicted the postal service would keep most of MIT’s business even if it lost its own post office.

She said the postal service must cut expenses, even to the extent of combining profitable places, because it has lost business since e-mail and electronic transfers have become popular. The postal service web site said that between 2007 and 2008 there was a 4.5 percent decline in total mail volume, with the hardest hit category that of first class letters.

That’s understandable. Many of us now do at least some banking or bill paying electronically while a decade ago we did not have that option. I’m betting many of you belong to organizations that have saved money by switching to email for notices and newsletters that otherwise would have gone by regular mail.

Never mind that somehow Congress has been hoodwinked into believing the postal service should pay its own way—one wonders what would happen if we required the defense department or interstate highways to do so. The postal service has pumped up service and offered discounts to large volume mailers— some might say, at the expense of the rest of us.

Businesses generate 86 percent of all mail, and households receive two-thirds of all mail. Here’s an example: yesterday we received a presorted yellow envelope from ADT with the phrase “important notice about your ADT security system.” This is interesting: we don’t have an ADT security system. So this is what businesses are mailing to us.

Just because I didn’t bother to open the ADT envelope doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the U.S. Mail. Our postman, Tom Boudreau, is efficient, tidy and rarely delivers someone else’s mail to our house. Our front door is on a rather obscure walkway, and he can find us, something I wish I could say about the postal service’s competitors. When I mail a package, it costs considerably less than it does with the competitors. A letter I send today to someone nearby gets there tomorrow. I’m a big fan of the U.S. Mail.

But even if I weren’t, Charles Street Station is OUR post office. We don’t want to go elsewhere. For Charles Street’s small businesses, its proximity is a real convenience. For example, Beacon Hill Chocolates mails about a half dozen packages a week, said shop manager Rebecca Novak. At holiday time, they are in the post office daily. Moreover, a post office is another contributor toward community. You know the postal clerks. You chat with friends as you stand in line.

Charles Street Station has been at 136 Charles Street since the early 1920s. It was one of the first tenants in the steel and allegedly fireproof building on the Revere Street corner that the Beacon Hill Associates built as Charles Street was being widened. The late Polly Hebert said her family was one of the first tenants upstairs, and that everyone called the building Codman’s Folly, because it had cost so much to build.

The postal service threatened to close Charles Street Station in the early 1980s, and the neighborhood set up a great hue and cry. Legend has it that Senator Ted Kennedy’s intervention saved it.

We don’t have Kennedy anymore, but U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch, whose district includes part of the Hill, is on the subcommittee that deals with the postal service. A future argument could be that without Charles Street Station the postal service would lose business, since most customers would transfer their package mailing to the friendly UPS store across the street rather than make the trek to another post office.

We are okay at the moment. But we must remain watchful.

One thought on “Post Office wins and woes

  1. Jane Draper

    Dear Karen,
    I loved your article on 9/29/09 Good news for Charles Street Station.
    I am a Postmaster in a small rural town in Vermont and you have hit the nail on the head. We are doing everything we can to save money in our offices so we can do our part to save jobs and offices.
    I don’t think people are aware of how important the Postal Service is. You know what they say, “You don’t apprieciate something until it is gone”.
    Again, great article and thanks for supporting what I take pride in doing everyday.

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