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September 2, 2009 > Historic local post offices slated for closure

Historic local post offices slated for closure

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By William Mancebo

"This is an outrage," Dodi Gile wrote in her letter to the Tri-City Voice when she heard that Niles Post Office might be shut down. "Quite a few persons are against it and for many reasons."

Gile wanted to express her support for Eleanor, the postmaster at Niles for close to 20 years. "She is always ready to help and knows just about every one of her regular customers by name and even their P.O. Box."

Although no final decision has been made, 677 post offices nationwide have the potential to be closed down permanently.

According to Sally Davidow, Communications Director of the American Postal Workers Union, "The USPS plans to make decisions by the end of September, so that closures could be implemented at the start of the new fiscal year."

Some possible reasons for the closures are that the United States Postal Service is projecting losses of close to $7 billion this fiscal year. They are considering going to a five-day delivery service, consolidating and closing down some post offices. Mail volume is down and the recession and changes in technology have affected the postal system. Times have definitely changed.

Postal union members from across the country have galvanized to stage protests, collect signatures from postal patrons and get community support.

At Mission San Jose Post Office, also listed for closure, long time postmaster Ralph Bell, explains the attachment people have to the post office. "My feelings go farther than the Mission San Jose Post Office. I even think of the small post offices in Kansas where they're a neighborhood fixture and farmers go in to share a cup of coffee and catch up on the day's news."

Customer Tess Padar says, "We definitely do not want the Post Office to be closed." She plans on writing or calling local Congressman Pete Stark.

Ralph Bell is well-known and loved by the community that he has served for over 22 years. "We're a neighborhood post office, not a big business," continues Bell.

"Each of the five district post offices has its own individual identity and client base. Mission San Jose is historic and opened on April 9, 1850. It's even older than the state of California."

"Our community has been tremendous." Bell says that almost every customer asks, "What can we do to try help save this post office?" Customers have put up signs, written letters to newspaper editors, contacted television stations and called Congressman Stark.

"We were shocked and didn't expect to be put on the closures list. There is so much history here. We do a good job for the community and neighborhood and there's a very steady flow of customers."

According to Bell, "Some customers have held post office boxes here since the 1920's and 1940's like McIvors's and 4 Winds Nursery. Personally, I feel devastated. I'd like to think that this post office will always be here and remain a part of our community."

This neighborhood has always had a close identity to the Mission San Jose Post Office. "I only live a few blocks away, and sometimes customers will drop by my house to tell me if they see anything amiss," says Bell.

Currently two full-time employees, Sannie Huie and Ralph Bell, work at the "the happiest" post office in Fremont, based on online reviews at Yelp.com.

Bell remembers how the community came together for the Mission's bicentennial in 1997. Community members built a portable post office on the steps of the Mission and helped hand-cancel special envelopes on that day. Others like Don Dillon helped save the historic postmark when it was in jeopardy.

"The public is really helping us out," says Bell. "People don't want our business to close. We give a personal approach. Some customers come in several times a day to check their mailboxes, or stop by to just say hi."

"I'm heartened to have had such a great community through the years who treated me like part of their family. I remember the ones who have passed on, like Mary Dean of Travel Arrangements. She helped me out and stepped right in and took care of all my travel arrangements when my own father died."

Bell hopes that Mission San Jose Post Office can be spared from closure. "We have a great history and community support. I want all the customers to know how much we appreciate what they've done over the years and that I always tried to put a smile on people's faces while providing them with good service."

On the other side of town, Terry Grimmer, owner of the building that houses the Niles Post Office is concerned about its closure as well. He bought the building 18 years ago. He has strong ties to the community - he and his twin brother were raised in Niles and his grandfather was a doctor there at the turn of the century.

"I remember as a child going to the post office with my mother and twin brother," Grimmer recalls. "She would put us on the counter of the post office and chat with the mailperson."

"The post office is the stalwart symbol of the whole community. It provides a presence for the community as the post office motto states, "For the benefit of people," says Grimmer.

He believes that the post office is a vital community resource. "People in Niles can walk to our post office. Demographically, a large proportion of senior citizens live here and rely on the close proximity of the post office," says Grimmer.

Many of the small businesses and antique shops also rely on the post office to ship and receive merchandise.

Grimmer's view is that the dire situation of the Postal Service is a direct result of the Bush administration placing a big burden on the system. "They voted that the Postal Service had to pre-fund a significant amount of retiree benefits for the future," says Grimmer. "If they didn't have this restriction, they wouldn't be in the situation they are in today as it limited the Postal Service's ability to be competitive with Federal Express and UPS."

In the meantime, Grimmer has put up signs, distributed flyers, and contacted organizations, trying to get a groundswell of public opinion to stop the closures.

If you would like to let your opinion be known, here is the contact information for the Postmaster General and Congressman Pete Stark:

Write:
Postmaster General Jack Potter
475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Washington, DC 20260-0010

Write or call:
The Honorable Fortney "Pete" Stark
39300 Civic Center Drive, Suite 220
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 494-1388 Fremont office
(202) 225-5065 Washington, D.C. office
Email: www.stark.house.gov

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