Holiday mailing rush hits high gear

Monday, December 15, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:41 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Count Cindy Bolles among the busiest people in town today.

Bolles, supervisor of customer service at the Columbia Post Office, said that historically the lines of people waiting to ship holiday packages and gifts are longest the second Monday before Christmas.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the wait is at least 20 minutes,” Bolles said.

Customer-service windows at the post office will be fully staffed today, Bolles said, and additional employees might be available to help customers fill out delivery information while they wait.

While the U.S. Postal Service handles about 40 percent of the cards and letters mailed on any given day, mailing centers and shippers like UPS see huge increases in business this time of year. Debby Skaggs, manager of the UPS Store on Clark Lane, said that between Saturday and tonight, she expects to handle 400 to 500 packages — four or five times the usual amount for a three-day period.

The nation’s fourth-largest private employer, UPS still needs to hire extra help this time of year, said Jerrilyn Carey, owner of the UPS Store at Eastgate in Columbia. Along with the additional help, Carey hopes a recently introduced service will prevent today’s lines from becoming too long: UPS customers can now leave their e-mail address with the store when they drop off their packages, and the store will notify them electronically when the package is picked up by a UPS truck. Another e-mail will be sent to confirm delivery. The service is free, Carey said, and will continue year-round.

Lisa Hollenbeck, owner of PostalAnnex in Columbia, said that after a busier-than-usual November, she expects this Christmas season to be among the biggest she’s seen. Like Carey, she’s hired more workers.

“We hire more people and our regular employees work more,” Hollenbeck said. “Our revenues triple, so our staffing hours also triple.”

Although the post office and mailing centers make a point of reminding their customers to come in early and avoid the rush, many shoppers are busy conquering the malls up until the last minute. Procrastinators might see shorter lines, but it’ll cost them.

“They can still ship a package up to Dec. 23 and pay for overnight delivery to have it there by Christmas,” Skaggs said. “But they’ll pay a little more.”

Lara Schneider, of Columbia, always tries to beat the rush because her customers demand it. Schneider was at the Eastgate UPS Store on Friday to ship her handmade holiday wreathes, which she tries to deliver a few weeks before Christmas. She may have a few more to ship next week, but not today.

“I’ll make sure to avoid the stores that day,” she said.

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