HARTSBURG — Before the sun rises, work has already begun. A truck from Columbia arrives between 5 and 6 a.m. laden with letters and packages.
Everything outside is quiet, except for the twittering birds and rustling leaves. The sun rises, an American flag blows in the breeze, and the chain clinks on the pole. It stands beside a small, sea-green building with gray shingles. The sign reads: United States Post Office Hartsburg, Missouri 65039.
Customers can vote for one of the following options under a customer survey sent to Hartsburg residents. No decision will be made until after surveys are collected and public response at a meeting Wednesday. As of now, the Postal Service plans to keep the Hartsburg post office open with reduced hours.
- Keep the post office open, but reduce hours to four hours daily. Saturday window hours would not change.
- Conduct a discontinuance study for the office and provide roadside mailbox delivery. Retail and delivery service would be provided through a rural carrier.
- Conduct a discontinuance survey for the post office and find an alternative location to provide Postal Service products and services.
- Conduct a discontinuance study for the post office and provide box service through another nearby post office and relocated P.O. box delivery to that post office.
Source: U.S. Postal Service
The Postal Service plans to reduce office hours at its Hartsburg location to four hours daily, plus the regular window hours on Saturdays. A final decision will be made after a public meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Hartsburg post office.
"Several people want to attend," Charlie Roach, the officer in charge, said.
The meeting time, however, could be an issue for some Hartsburg residents.
"Being in the middle of the day during the middle of the week, workers can't attend," Jo Hackman, a postal employee of 29 years, said. "Hopefully there will be a good turnout."
About 14,000 rural post offices, including several in Boone County, will decrease hours or close in the next two years, according to a Postal Service document outlining the measures that could save the agency an estimated $500 million a year. The plan has a completion date of September 2014.
A decision has already been made to reduce hours at the post office in the northern Boone County town of Sturgeon, and decisions are pending in Rocheport and Harrisburg.
Roach has been the officer in charge of the post office for a few weeks. The most recent post office manager transferred to another location in October when she discovered the Hartsburg location was being downsized, Roach said.
Roach works with a couple other employees to sort and deliver mail. The Hartsburg post office delivers on two separate routes.
Only two carriers are needed to cover the routes. One route is 50 miles long and goes through Ashland. Another route is 75 miles round trip, and goes south, servicing parts of Callaway County, Roach said. It keeps Roach and his co-workers busy.
"There are over 500 packages per week going out," Roach said, peeking out behind a row of mail slots stuffed with publications.
Hartsburg residents view the post office as part of the community, and closure isn't an option.
"I think you kind of lose your identity if you lose the post office," Hackman said. "The older people would have quite a time."
Businesses in Hartsburg, including the Hartsburg Grand, Dotty's Cafe and the Hart Creek Bistro, rely on the post office as well.
Jim Nilges, the owner of the Hartsburg Grand, said his business uses the post office regularly, even though the restaurant has been open for only seven weeks.
"We use them all the time for regular post mail," Nilges said. He said he picks up a couple packages at the post office each week.
"We have a post office box, but to access our packages, someone has to be there to pick it up," Nilges said.
Bud Ditzfeld, owner of the Hart Creek Bistro, said he would support the reduced hours to keep the post office open.
"Most everything I get comes in through the post office,"Ditzfeld said. "Invoices and government forms."
Dotty Manns, the owner of Dotty's Cafe, said she likes having the post office just down the street, especially if customers leave items at her restaurant.
"Sometimes people leave something here, and we can mail it back to them," Manns, who has run Dotty's Cafe for nine years, said. "It works really well to run over."
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