Postal Service cutbacks could shutter office in Dinkytown

More than 2,000 offices in the U.S. have closed since 2001.

by Kaitlin Walker

The Dinkytown post office may be next in the tide of closures hitting the nationâÄôs postal service.

Nearly 3,700 branches of the U.S. Postal Service across the nation are under review for closure âÄî part of an effort to cut costs at a time of turmoil for the federal agency. Eighty-eight offices throughout Minnesota, including six in the Twin Cities, are among those at risk.

If the Dinkytown office is closed, the biggest loss will be one of convenience, said Sheila Wolks, who works in the neighborhood.

âÄúIt would be a big pain in the you-know-what,âÄù she said.

If all of the targeted offices close, it could save the Postal Service up to $200 million a year, said Pete Nowacki, a Postal Service spokesman. The companyâÄôs revenue has dropped more than $2.3 billion in the past decade.

The Postal Service will consider the proximity of other locations, the amount of traffic each office receives and customer feedback when making the final decision on whether to close the office, which wonâÄôt happen for several months, Nowacki said.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to be surveying customers, getting their input, holding a public meeting and just finding out how people feel about this before we come to a final decision,âÄù Nowacki said.

The Dinkytown post office is about a mile west from an office on University Avenue and only about half a mile from the post office in Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus.

âÄúThere arenâÄôt as many people using post offices anymore. ItâÄôs just that simple,âÄù Nowacki said. âÄúDo we really need to have all of these buildings?âÄù

The Postal Service has cut its workforce by more than 200,000 in the last 10 years, according to Postal Service data. During that time, the number of retail offices has dropped from 38,123 in 2001 to 35,754 in 2010.

Nowacki said the Postal Service will be working closely with unions and management organizations to ensure that employees displaced by office closures will have a job elsewhere within the company.

Lawmakers are working on proposals to completely rework the postal system, including more office closures and a five-day delivery week. But for now, the Postal Service is consolidating and closing offices to deal with a major reduction in mail being sent and received.

The amount of mail sent annually has dropped by almost 37 billion pieces since 2001 and first class mail alone is down by almost 42 percent, according to Postal Service data.

Convenience trumps nostalgia

The Internet and other technologies may be to blame for the decrease, said Shayla Thiel-Stern, a professor at the UniversityâÄôs School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

âÄúOnce you become accustomed to, for example, paying your bills online âĦ I think you tend to realize that itâÄôs a lot easier and often cheaper,âÄù Thiel-Stern said.

Technology has always replaced older ways of doing things, she said, and the post office is just the latest victim. While there is concern for the loss of something that may be culturally significant, convenience trumps nostalgia, she said.

âÄúItâÄôs kind of a pain to have to buy stamps,âÄù Thiel-Stern said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of a pain to locate an envelope and do all those things when most people spend most of their day in front of a computer screen communicating with other people.âÄù

Even as he walked out of the Dinkytown location, University student Spencer Niebuhr said he rarely goes to the post office because he mostly sends email.

âÄúThe reason I came in [to the post office] today was to buy stamps because there wasnâÄôt an ATM I could buy them at,âÄù he said.

But for other residents in the Dinkytown neighborhood, the loss of the post office will be more of an interruption.

Laura Price, a former University graduate student who lives down the street from the Dinkytown post office, said her apartment doesnâÄôt handle outgoing mail.

Price said she visits the post office to send small packages. If the office does eventually close, she said she could go to the post office in Coffman Union, but it would be more of an inconvenience.