“You take it for granted until it’s gone”

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So you need to stop by the post office to mail a package, and you notice there aren’t any cars in the parking lot, and then you discover that the doors are locked and there are a couple of notes taped to the door saying the post office has been closed permanently. “What’s that all about?” you wonder.  “I knew the Postal Service was having financial problems, but it seems like they just closed this post office overnight.”

The post office is the Woods Park Station in Lincoln, Nebraska, and it turns out the Postal Service had its eye on closing it for some time. 

On April 9, 2009, the Postal Service announced that it would be reducing the staff working at Woods Park.  Twenty-eight carriers (9 for ZIP code 68503 and 19 for 68510) were transferred to other post offices, leaving just three clerks to manage the station as a satellite office.  The Journal Star reported that the Postal Service was considering closing the Woods Park station when the lease runs out in 2012.

At around the same time, the Postal Service began a national program to consolidate retail facilities by reviewing 3,600 stations and branches for closure.  It was called the Station and Branch Optimization and Consolidation (SBOC) Initiative.

By July 2009, the Postal Service had narrowed its SBOC review to about 700 stations and branches.  As required by law, the Postal Service requested what’s called an “Advisory Opinion” from the Postal Regulatory Commission “on the national service implication of the proposed closures.”

On July 30, 2009, the Woods Park Station, along with Lincoln’s University Place and State Office Building stations, appeared on a list of 677 stations and branches being considered for closure that was published by the Washington Post.  This lengthy list of post offices got a lot of attention. Over the coming months, public opposition, political pressure, and concern about what the PRC Advisory Opinion would say led the Postal Service to revise the list several times, and it eventually went down to 162.

On August 13, 2009, the Journal Star reported that the Postal Service had already changed its plans for Lincoln.  University Place and State Office had been taken off the table, but the Woods Park was still under consideration for closure. "It's not a done deal," Lincoln Postmaster Kerry Kowalski said.  "It has to go to headquarters for approval, but Woods Park is on the table.”

On March 1, 2011, the final decision to close the post office was announced in a USPS press release that cited the close proximity of other post offices and “the underutilized space”— “Woods Park Station is operated by one postal clerk and one maintenance employee.”

On May 6, 2011, the Woods Park post office had its last day.  The Journal Star reported that the station's neighbors “were sad to see the place go.”

"We use that post office all the time," said Anita Moore, an administrative assistant at a surety bonds company across the street. "Now we have to go to Gateway." Donna Schnell, who works at a dental office catty-corner from the post office, said, "You take it for granted until it's gone."

Woods Park was technically a “station” rather than a main post office, so the Postal Service didn’t need to go through the lengthy public review process required for a regular post office.  While the Postal Service press release said that “community input was received and carefully considered,” there are no news reports indicating that the Postal Service worked hard to make people aware of the impending closure, that a public hearing took place, or that the public was encouraged to submit comments to the Postal Service.  Most likely, box holders received a notice and maybe a small sign was put up somewhere in the lobby.  No wonder you could be taken by surprise that the post office had closed. 

In March of 2010, the PRC issued its Advisory Opinion about the Station and Branch Optimization and Consolidation (SBOC) Initiative.  Among other things, it criticized the Postal Service for not giving patrons of stations and branches ample notice of an impending closing and sufficient opportunity for submitting comments.  It argued that stations and branches should be considered just like a post office when it comes to the procedures for a closure.  But the Postal Service continues to take the opposing view, and for good reason.  It takes about four months to close a station or branch, nine to close a post office, and that’s extra time for the public to mobilize in opposition and make life difficult for the Postal Service.

The issue of whether stations and branches should get the same closure treatment as post offices has yet to be resolved.  However it turns out, it’s going to be too late for Woods Park.

(Photo credit: Woods Park Station top; bottom)

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