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Small-town residents saddened by prospect of post offices closing

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 | 1:59 p.m. CDT; updated 3:57 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Yvonne Rennolds stops by the Arrow Rock post office to get her mail and bring postmaster Tempe McGlaughlin leftover pasta salad. The post office serves as a community gathering space for Arrow Rock.

FRANKLIN — The last time Peggy Gentry visited her local post office a week ago, it was for stamps and gossip.

“I think it brings a town together in that it’s a place where people — neighbors — meet,” she said.

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Peggy and her husband, Ron Gentry, live on Second Street only a few hundred yards from the post office.

“It will just be history here before long,” Ron Gentry said.

The Franklin post office is one of 167 Missouri post offices being evaluated for closure. Nationally, 3,653 post offices could close, part of a financial decision by the U.S. Postal Service to streamline and focus on more digital postal services.

The post offices were identified for evaluation based on whether they serve enough customers and have a sufficient workload. The availability of nearby alternatives for mailing and shipping also was considered.

Micki Jones, customer relations coordinator for the Gateway District, which includes part of Illinois and Missouri, said closing all 3,653 post offices would save $200 million annually.

Franklin, population 95

“If the post office closes..." said Ron Gentry, “...it's not really a town,” said his wife, Peggy Gentry, finishing his sentence.

After the great flood of 1828, a migration from Franklin began, Ron Gentry said. People left for higher ground.

“Some of the hard-headed ones didn’t want to be up there,” Ron Gentry said.

His family is among those. The Gentrys have remained in Franklin despite two major floods, one in 1951 when Ron was age 7, and another when Peggy and Ron were both living in Franklin in 1993.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Franklin’s population dropped by more than one-third to 112 between 1990 and 2000 and, since then, to 95 residents.

Ron Gentry said the flood washed the town away.

“I hate to see it die, and if you lose a post office — that’s a big thing for a town,” Peggy Gentry said.

Ron Gentry said Franklin used to be a busy little town that ran 32 trains a day. The town is home to the Katy Roundhouse, which used to be the only place for trains to turn around between St. Louis and Denison, Texas.

Now, aside from John James Ice Manufacturer across the street, the post office is the only business left in downtown Franklin and serves as the public gathering place. It's a brick building surrounded by trees, and an American flag is raised on a flagpole in front. The town is so quiet that the arrival of a customer at the post office is signaled by the loud crunch of gravel in the parking lot.

Peggy Gentry said the post office provides a feeling of security.

“The farther away you get from your post office, the less assurance you have,” she said.

Arrow Rock, population 56

As he stood outside The Old Schoolhouse in downtown Arrow Rock, Quin Gresham said the town's post office is a place where you do more than just lick a stamp.

“It’s where you feel a consistent heartbeat for the community,” he said.

Yvonne Rennolds stopped by Monday morning to pick up her mail and bring the Arrow Rock postmaster some leftover pasta salad.

The last time the Arrow Rock post office closed was in 1862 during the Civil War. It reopened a month and a half later.

Residents of Arrow Rock fear that if the post office closes this time, it may not reopen.

Bill True, a 63-year resident of Arrow Rock, said the post office acts as a social hub for the town.

“It’s always been just like it is right now, every day, since I was a little kid,” True said.

Lifelong Arrow Rock resident Elaine Breshears remembers her excitement as a child when her father let her spin the combination and open the little-bitty handle to retrieve their mail from post box number nine. If the line was long, she would look at the posters of wanted criminals that were displayed on the walls.

Inside the post office, old post boxes frame the service counter next to a bureau where old letter openers, rubber stamps and other tools of the mail trade are displayed. Town awards hang on the walls next to the community bulletin board, which is tacked with fliers for town social events. 

But it's not all about letters and packages: A book exchange shelf sits in the middle of the office where residents can leave or take paperbacks. Outside is a cardboard box where farmers and neighbors can donate fresh produce.

Kathy Borgman of Friends of Arrow Rock said closing the Arrow Rock post office will hurt small businesses because proprietors will have to leave their stores to pick up and send mail and packages.

“You need to be here in your store, not driving to some other place,” Borgman said.

Borgman said rural America is already underserved by having limited Internet access and poor cellular service. Taking away post offices will be "like going backwards."

"Nobody cares about us because we're just a few people," she said.

Wooldridge, population 61

About 30 miles southeast of Arrow Rock in Wooldridge, Leslie Stock has the same worry — that losing the post office will make people feel unimportant.

"It was such a big deal for these little towns and little communities to get the post offices. That’s what put them on the map,” Stock said.

She has used the Wooldridge post office for more than 15 years and loves the convenience.

"If the post office is closed then I have to go to Boonville, and a five-minute trip turns into a 20-25 minute trip one way,” Stock said.

The redwood frame building on Main Street is adorned with a single flower pot, which hangs from the outside deck, and the requisite flag. It's so quiet, visitors can hear the buzzing of electrical wires overhead and the rare swoosh of a truck driving by on the highway.

Stock said having a town without a post office might deter people from moving to Wooldridge.

“When people are moving into an area, I think they look to see what a community can offer, and if a community isn’t able to offer a post office they might go, 'Oh, maybe that’s too small,' ” Stock said.

What happens next

 Missouri politicians are weighing in on the evaluations.

"If we do anything about the closing post offices let's be sure it really saves money instead of it's just another short term Band-Aid on a much bigger problem," Sen. Roy Blunt said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill noted that the government is "rightfully" looking at where to cut spending, but also said, "when it comes to closing down post offices, we need to make certain this process is fair and that it doesn’t hurt Missouri’s rural communities.”

Each post office on the list will be evaluated for 60 days. If the post office is chosen to close, it will operate for 60 days after the decision is made. 

Evaluations will begin this month and continue at least through October.  

Soon, community residents will be surveyed or given an opportunity to speak at public hearings about the possible closings. The announcement outlining the evaluation structure will be later in August.

Meanwhile, a “village post office” alternative has been proposed by USPS. It would be operated out of a local business — like a grocery store — and offer services such as stamps and flat-rate packaging.


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Comments

Mike Bellman August 6, 2011 | 11:59 a.m.

Keep them open on alternating days. M-W-F or T-R-S.
Staff them with 12 hour employess to maintain full-time benefits.

Run all deliveries 3-times a week in the same fashion, alternating routes. Or in Extreme rural areas, twice a week. Cut costs, keep the small offices.

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