The U.S. Postal Service has begun a review process of 3,200 of the more than 30,000 post offices across the country to determine if they should be closed. Thirty eight St. Louis area post offices appear on the list released by USPS. This is a story that is gaining a lot of airtime and column inches across the country. Looking at content from Virginia to California, the patent response from USPS is “We’re not reviewing post office closings – these are stations and branches and we’re looking at the possibility of consolidating them.” And what happens when two more post offices consolidate? All but one closes.
The branches here in St. Louis range widely in form, from a retail location in the St. Louis Galleria, to strip malls to small neighborhood facilities to the busy Clayton location. What is apparent is that urban locations in particular are “under review for consolidation.” There are 36 locations within I-270 and two more just outside. By my own count, just 11 locations in this area are not being reviewed. Writer Tim Logan at the Building Blocks Blog has noted that while 38 locations in St. Louis are being reviewed, the same can be said for only 10 in Detroit and 1 in Indianapolis. I won’t say that this process isn’t needed, but a better explanation of how the list was compiled is necessary.
Why urban post offices are being targeted out of proportion to far suburban, exurban and rural locations has not been made explicit by USPS, but the city has seen all manner of amenities leave, close or consolidate: groceries, schools, movie theaters and more. Perhaps the bureaucracy of the post office has allowed too many locations to linger for too long. Perhaps the small local post office is as outdated as the neighborhood Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
While urban post office locations may no longer serve the number of residents that they once did, St. Louis is experiencing the revitalization of many neighborhoods and amenities are returning to the city, increasing the quality of life and offering a less car-dependent option.
The Chouteau Post Office on Mancester Avenue in the Grove certainly makes my neighborhood more walkable. I walk there to buy stamps, mail books I’ve sold on Amazon.com and send Christmas presents to those we are not able to visit. I’m not there often, but it’s wonderful to have in the neighborhood.
Like many, I’m sentimental about the local post office. Then again, I grew up where having a post office defined whether a group of homes were a town or not. The post office asserts and verifies that a community exists. Here, a post office confirms that a neighborhood exists, it helps define the areas of our city. These institutions, like neighborhood schools, are a piece of the social fabric that looms much larger in perception than reality. But in this role, perception is more important than reality.
While the method of selecting the locations to be reviewed seems to be counterintuitive, chances are that only a small number of the 38 post offices in St. Louis (and the 3,200 nationwide) will close. In a prepared statement to the congressional subcommittee on federal workforce, USPS Vice President Jordan Small said, “In our review of stations and branches, we began the review with some 3,200 locations that handle the most retail transactions and the most deliveries. We anticipate that out of these 3,200 stations and branches, under 1,000 offices could be considered as viable candidates to study further.” (Click here to read full statement)
Jordan also stated, “(We will) consider factors such as customer access, service standards, cost savings, impact on employees, environmental impact, real estate values and long-term Postal Service needs.” This component may explain why a busy location such as the Clayton Post Office is being reviewed.
So it’s likely that the knee-jerk reaction of looking at the map above is unwarranted, but does it make sense for the USPS to consolidate its locations? If so, which locations in St. Louis should remain open? Which locations are most important to the neighborhood they serve?