A New Reality For Rural Post Offices

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The struggling U.S. Postal Service is planning to reduce the hours at thousands of rural post offices. That's just the latest in cost cutting measures for an agency that lost more than $3 billion in just the first three months of this year. In northern New Hampshire, residents of one town are already getting a glimpse of what the future might look like. Sean Hurley has this report.

SEAN HURLEY, BYLINE: The town of Sugar Hill, population 500 or so, is aptly named. Near the summit of the hill is the driftwood cottage of Polly's Pancake Parlor. When the wind is right, the fragrance of syrup and butter that pours across the road stops your car as surely as a sheep drive. As you continue over Sugar Hill, you'll soon find yourself near Harman's Cheese and General Store. Across the street from Harman's is the town hall that used to be a school next to the museum that used to be a firehouse. Right next to Harman's is the small white hut of the post office that used to be a blacksmith shop. Town selectman Dick Bielifield stands outside the post office and reads a notice taped to the door.

DICK BIELIFIELD: All right. Effective Saturday, May 26, 2012, the rural carrier will service this facility from 10:15 to 10:45 each day. Customers will be able to purchase stamps only. No other retail services will be provided. We appreciate your cooperation.



HURLEY: Sugar Hill's post office is now open only 30 minutes a day.

BIELIFIELD: If they could make it any more inconvenient, I don't know how they could. This is a communication center for a town. And to have it open 30 minutes a day is borders organized insanity. And the way they did it totally rubs us wrong.

HURLEY: Brenda Aldrich runs the cheese shop next door.

BRENDA ALDRICH: We're just - we're in shock. We had no warning. We're numb. This was a full-service post office.

HURLEY: Last year, Brenda says her shop did almost $14,000 worth of business at the post office.

ALDRICH: We also all believe that this was a profitable post office, and we'd like to see the records that show we're not profitable. We think we were making money.

HURLEY: But according to U.S. Post Office spokesman Tom Rizzo, they weren't.

TOM RIZZO: The fact is that that post office was averaging approximately $40 a day in revenue.

HURLEY: Tom Rizzo says the real problem is that the Sugar Hill post office was never really a post office in the first place.

RIZZO: Sugar Hill is classified as a non-personnel unit, an NPU. And what that means is there is no official staffing for that very small facility. It's just supposed to be another stop on the way for the rural letter carrier.

HURLEY: The rural letter carrier took it upon himself to expand service, turning the Sugar Hill NPU into a full-service post office. Now, Tom Rizzo says, things are going back to the way they should have been all along. Local residents like Judy Weisenberger are helping with a community letter, hoping to get their post office back.

JUDY WEISENBERGER: You have to speak up and you have to speak up as a community, not just one person that can be ignored.

HURLEY: On July 16th, the town's 50th birthday, the U.S. Post Office was meant to make a special present to the town of a unique Sugar Hill cancellation stamp.

WEISENBERGER: Now, what happens to that? Because now we don't have any cancellation at this post office any more.

HURLEY: The irony is as rich as the syrup on the other side of Sugar Hill. For NPR News, I'm Sean Hurley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.