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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

Post office red ink

The U.S. Postal Service has been hemorrhaging money for years and wants to close thousands of post offices as it tries to return to solvency. As postal officials determine which offices to shut down, they must gauge the potential hardship on each neighborhood.

A decade ago, there were some 38,000 post offices nationwide. But revenue from first-class mail has declined sharply since then, largely because the Internet changed the way people keep in touch, pay their bills, and conduct other business. More recently, the recession cut deeply into advertising mail as well.

In response, the Postal Service has closed more than 6,000 offices around the country in an attempt to economize and streamline operations. But it hasn't been enough. The Postal Service lost $8 billion last year, so it is considering closing an additional 3,653 offices, branches, and stations.

Five Toledo post offices are on the list: the Point Place station, the Manhattan Boulevard office, the Midtown branch on Dorr Street, the Old West End station on Ashland Avenue, and Station A on Second Street in East Toledo. Deciding which offices to close will take four to six months and will include a time for public comment and an appeals process.

No one wants to lose their neighborhood post office, but the Postal Service's dire financial straits cannot be denied. Nor can the red ink be explained away as the product of a bloated bureaucracy.

It is inevitable, therefore, that some post offices will close. Still, the impact on some neighborhoods will be greater than on others, and postal officials should take that into account.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) noted that many of the potential targets are in urban neighborhoods where some residents are elderly and don't drive, while others cannot afford a vehicle. Many of these same neighborhoods lack grocery stores or other locations suitable for so-called village post offices. These are places that would sell stamps, accept flat-rate packages, and in some cases offer post office boxes.

Postal Service spokesman Victor Dubina said it is difficult to quantify walk-up versus vehicle traffic at post offices. But the employees know their neighborhoods. When rumors swirled two years ago about potential closures, a postal worker in one of the locations on the current list noted that many of her customers were neighborhood residents who walked to the post office out of necessity, not choice.

For these people, many of whom are poor or on fixed incomes, closing the neighborhood station would mean they have to take a bus just to mail a package or check a post office box. That would limit their access to postal services. The same might not true for offices where most of the customers are commuters who could easily drive to another branch.

The Postal Service has to have a business model that can compete with the Internet and alternate delivery services such as FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. Fewer offices undoubtedly are part of the solution.

That burden should not fall unfairly on the shoulders of the poor, the elderly, and others who lack political clout, for whom the neighborhood post office is a necessity.



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