Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not Going Postal

When I was a child and used to visit my grandparents who lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of the things I remember doing was sometimes hopping into the car and grandpa driving several miles into the little town near where they lived---to get the mail.

Every day they made that trip, unless it was winter time---then the mail could wait until the roads were passable.

For most of us, a check of the mail means nothing more than padding to the front door, opening it, and peeking into the box. Being fully clothed isn't even required.

Can you imagine getting into your car and driving 10-15 minutes each way---just to check the freaking mail?

I wonder what will happen to those small, out of the way post offices, in light of the news that the U.S. Postal Service is closing 3,700 offices in order to cut costs.

And they have to do a lot of cutting.

The Postal Service needs to close a $20 billion gap in revenue by 2015.

The 3,700 offices that will close are spread out over all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

"The Postal Service of the future will be smaller, leaner and more competitive and it will continue to drive commerce, serve communities and deliver value," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said after releasing a list of the offices to be closed.

The closings are in addition to other cost-cutting ideas like a five-day delivery week, which I wrote about in this space back in November 2009.

It's not a big mystery why the Postal Service is bleeding money.

No one uses them anymore.

Well, not literally, but almost.

If it wasn't for junk mail and bills every week, your mailbox would be accumulating spider webs more than mail.

No one writes letters anymore. Fewer and fewer people are paying bills via the mail; they receive bills in the mail, but don't pay them that way. And more and more folks are getting their statements electronically.



When I was 14, I had a pen pal. His name was Michael Maurer and he lived in New Jersey. I think we got matched up via the Baseball Digest. He was a Yankees fan and I was a Tigers fan and we wrote to each other several times over the summer. The excitement was palpable whenever I found a letter from Michael in the mailbox.

I exchanged letters with my grandmother a lot, too, back in the day.

In fiscal year 2010, the Postal Service suffered an $8.5 billion net loss.

Most of the offices to be closed suffer from lack of foot traffic and some only register about $50 in sales a day.

Donahoe says the savings from the closings, which will start in the next four to six months, will be about $200 million.

But of course, these aren't just buildings that are being shuttered. Real people are involved here.

3,000 postmasters, 500 supervisors and 500-1,000 clerks will be out of work, thanks to the closings.

I'm not sure how we got here, despite the reduction of use in services. This didn't happen overnight. The Internet is growing fast, yes, but why do I feel like the Postal Service was slow to head off this kind of financial calamity?

Some post offices in small towns have held meetings to prepare to challenge any decision to close.

But the Postal Service is swimming in red ink. It's unlikely that any decisions to close offices will be reversed.

Once again, the Internet giveth and taketh away.

That's how it goes, with 21st century living.

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