Following last week’s release of the U.S. Postal Service’s first quarter financial losses, renewed speculation arose around whether USPS would be closing post offices in the New Haven area.
Five offices had been considered for closure in August 2009, but Yale Station, at least for now, is here to stay. As the flurry of red and pink envelopes delivered to the office’s 8,000 P.O. boxes this past weekend demonstrated, the office still sees a large amount of business.
Over the past 18 months, the agency has been evaluating existing infrastructure in cities such as Hartford, Boston, Syracuse and New Haven, said area USPS spokeswoman Maureen Marion. Since 2001, the number of offices has already shrunk by 3,000 to 35,754 offices, and Marion said USPS expects to close around 2,000 more this year. But so far, none of the closings are predicted to be in the New Haven area.
“That does not mean that we’ll never go back and look at New Haven again,” Marion said. “That’s probably unrealistic to say that … As conditions continue to change, we just need to always keep our options open.”
Though a federal agency, the mail service has constantly needed to adapt as if it were a business, she said, so customers should not feel alarmed. As the advent of the telephone and the car changed the way people communicated, so too has the internet.
Still, Yale Station saw a large amount of mail traffic in the Valentine’s Day rush last Saturday in its basement location at the corner of High and Elm, according to Supervisor of Customer Service Kathy Perez. The office opened for two extra hours Saturday afternoon in order to help accomodate the surge of holiday shipments.
“We’re always busy here,” said Perez, who hadn’t yet heard of the rumors of potential post office closings. “Mail comes in, packages come in, and the parcel window is open … We move the mail!”
Although Saturdays generally see the lowest mail volume, this past weekend still marked one of the peaks for the mail service. While the winter holidays are another issue, Valentine’s Day is characterized by a spike in the mail flow second only to Mother’s Day.
“Just because you’re in Connecticut, doesn’t mean your valentine is in Connecticut!” Marion said of why students may be mailing cards.
Because a majority of customers at Yale Station are students, two additional high-traffic times for Yale Station are the book orders placed at the beginning of each semester. These, too, help ensure the office will stay busy.
The Yale Station mailroom received 1,000 packages last Saturday, about 150 more than a typical Saturday. Perez said she has noticed an increase in decoration over the years: red, shiny stickers had been stuck onto some boxes; others displayed hand-drawn declarations of “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Though the red and pink envelopes bring more business, the lack of contrast with the black ink labels can lead to processing problems on an already hectic day, Marion said.
Nine sales and service associates share responsibility for handling the mail at Yale Station. The snowstorms of past weeks did not stop them from arriving on time, and Valentine’s Day would not intimidate them either.
VALENTINE’S DAY RUSH
By 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, 500 packages had already arrived, reasonable for the Valentine’s Day rush, Perez said.
Though the two extra operating hours on Saturday afternoon anticipated sleepy students failing to pick up their packages that morning, noon still marked the last chance any mail could be sent and still reach its destination by Valentine’s Day.
“We get a lot of the student traffic [and] we follow, basically, the student’s schedule,” Perez said, adding that of all the Connecticut offices in which she has worked since beginning as the first female mail handler in Bridgeport 32 years ago, Yale Station has been the most fun because of the interaction with students.
In the last five minutes before the store was to close, there were still eight customers at Yale Station, half of whom were students mailing valentines. One told the postal worker he needed his Valentine to get to Florida by Monday.
Employee Denise Ashe, waving a red flower pen, recommended he use Express Mail to get it there on time, noting that Florida is “quite a ways.”
The total to rush the card was $18.30. Sighing, he stepped away to weigh his options, while the final customer behind him noted to Perez, “I remember when I used to have someone to send things to.”
“Moms always love valentines,” she suggested. “No one is ever too old for a valentine.”
The student stepped back up to the counter, handing over a ten dollar bill, then pouring out a mug full of coins to count out the remaining $8.30. The letter would make it by 3 p.m. Monday.
Some students, Perez said, also came Monday in hopes that they could get mail sent that day. She doubted that could happen, but admitted that a card sent late is better than no card at all.
“There’s nothing like sending a letter,” Perez said, believing that even if the mail system is declining, it will always exist.
In 2006, Marion said, 213 billion pieces of mail were sent. Last year, there were 171 billion. According to the 2010 USPS Annual Report, the volume of mail is predicted to decline even further over the next decade, with first class mail estimated to fall from 78 to 52 billion pieces by 2020.