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Postal Service Ponders Closings

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By Dave Lucas

Albany, NY – FINANCIAL LOSSES IN THE INTERNET AGE ARE FORCING THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE TO CONSIDER CLOSING OR COMBINING NEARLY 700 FACILITIES. CAPITAL DISTRICT BUREAU CHIEF DAVE LUCAS REPORTS.

POSTAL SERVICE MANAGERS WILL BE STUDYING THE NATION'S APPROXIMATELY 3,200 STATIONS AND BRANCHES, TRYING TO DECIDE EXACTLY WHICH OF ABOUT A THOUSAND LOCAL OFFICES WILL BE MARKED FOR CLOSURE. ON THE SHORT LIST OF 700 POTENTIAL CANDIDATES FOR CLOSURE: FIVE POST OFFICES IN THE CITY OF ALBANY, ONE IN ROTTERDAM, ANOTHER IN SCOTIA, TWO EACH IN HARTFORD CT AND SPRINGFIELD MASS...

POSTAL OFFICIALS SAY THEY'LL BE CONSIDERING FACTORS SUCH AS CUSTOMER ACCESS, IMPACT ON WORKERS, REAL ESTATE VALUES AND LONG-TERM POSTAL SERVICE NEEDS.I STOPPED BY THREE OF THE ALBANY POST OFFICES THAT MADE THE LIST. CUSTOMERS I SPOKE WITH WERE SHOCKED TO LEARN THAT NEARLY ALL OF THE CITY LOCATIONS: CENTRAL AVENUE, ALLEN STREET, NEW SCOTLAND AVENUE, DELAWARE AVENUE AND MENANDS, MIGHT HAVE TO CLOSE THEIR DOORS BY THE END OF THE YEAR.

CONVENIENCE STORE OWNERS ALONG CENTRAL AVENUE SAY THEY'LL HAPPILY ABSORB CUSTOMERS LOOKING TO PURCHASE MONEY ORDERS AND STAMPS. POSTAL OFFICIALS SAY 30 PER CENT OF POSTAGE-RELATED SALES ALREADY OCCUR AT GROCERY AND CONVENIENCE STORES. A SENIOR CITIZEN, WHEN ASKED WHAT SHE'LL DO WHEN HER NEIGHBORHOOD POST OFFICES CLOSES, ANSWERED "I'LL CRY."

THE POST OFFICE HAS BEEN STRUGGLING WITH A SHARP DECLINE IN VOLUME AS BUSINESSES AND INDIVIDUALS TURN INCREASINGLY TO THE INTERNET TO COMMUNICATE AND PAY BILLS. LAST YEAR, MAIL VOLUME FELL BY 9.5 BILLION PIECES. THAT LOSS IN VOLUME IS EXPECTED TO NEARLY TRIPLE THIS YEAR, LEAVING THE AGENCY WITH A 7-BILLION DOLLAR POTENTIAL LOSS .

MAUREEN MARION IS A PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST WITH THE POSTAL SERVICE FOR UPSTATE NEW YORK, PARTS OF MASSACHUSETTS AND THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT. SHE CAUTIONS THAT THE STATIONS ON THE LIST ARE PART OF A STUDY, WHICH IS NOT A MANDATE FOR CLOSURE. MARION SAYS PEOPLE CONCERNED ABOUT POST OFFICE BOX SERVICE SHOULD NOT WORRY: THE AGENCY WILL TAKE PAINS TO CONTINUE SERVICE AT A LOCATION AS NEAR AS POSSIBLE... SHE STRESSES CUSTOMERS WILL HAVE A SAY IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT BY WAY OF A "COMMUNITY INPUT OPPORTUNITY."

POPULATION GROWTH AND NEW BUSINESS MEAN THE POST OFFICE HAS TO SERVE 1.2 MILLION NEW ADDRESSES EVERY YEAR. WHILE CONGRESS VOTES MONEY FOR FREE MAIL DELIVERY FOR THE BLIND AND TO OFFER REDUCED RATES TO CHARITIES, THE POST OFFICE DOES NOT RECEIVE TAXPAYER FUNDS FOR ITS OPERATIONS. THE POST OFFICE SAYS NO CHANGES ARE EXPECTED BEFORE THE END OF THE CURRENT FISCAL YEAR ON SEPT. 30.