How Contract Post Office Closures Affect Communities

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How Contract Post Office Closures Affect Communities
Some post offices are run by contractors — and if the contract stops, so does the mail.

The U.S. Postal Service says it delivers mail to more than 163 million addresses in the country, covering every state, city and town. But delivery got a lot more complicated in Sigurd, Utah a couple years ago.  

“We’re desperate for some mail delivery," said resident Cindy Roberts. "We’re a town without mail service. It’s been a hardship." 

There are different types of post offices: so called classified stations run and staffed by the USPS, and contract postal units, or CPUs, which means an outside small business or group owns or leases the site under contract with the post office.  

The Sigurd post office was a CPU contract unit.  But it closed because the contract holder, a longtime postmaster, retired.  

Residents there have gone more than two years without home mail delivery. Instead they're forced to drive 25-30 minutes just to pick up their mail. They even circulated a petition to oppose shifting to a post office that far away.  

"We’ve done everything we can to try and help and work through this, but this is something that has really affected our community," said resident Vicky Bastian.

Come February of 2023, residents in Big Sky, Montana could face a similar hardship, where a contract issue with its post office could cut off service to around 3,000 residents.

It, too, is a post office run by a outside contractor.

"CPUs are not only closing at a faster rate than they're opening, but they're closing at a very substantial clip, especially since the start of the pandemic," said Evan Kalish. "And personally, in several places I've been to, especially in New England, I've noticed that more rural contracted operations, which are generally known as community post offices, or CPOs, are being shuttered."

Kalish is a U.S. Post Office enthusiast. He’s visited more than 10,000 offices in all 50 states, and documents his visits and research on his blog called “Postlandia.”  

"Contract operations, as I'm sure you've discovered in your reporting are very easy to close," Kalish said. "It can really just take one person, it can either be the person who operates the place, or it could just be one person somewhere in the hierarchy of the Postal Service itself. And that's all it takes really, because contract operations are not protected by many of the same protocols that regular post offices are."

The latest Postal Regulatory Commission report shows a steady decline in post offices run by outside contractors the last few years, with 1,820 in fiscal year 2021.  

"It always makes me sad to hear about a closing whether or not it's a contract operation or staffed by the USPS, because they're there for a reason," Kalish said."They're there to serve their communities. And if a post office closes, that means that the community is not going to be getting the same service and in many cases, they're losing a piece of their identity."

In the case of the Big Sky location, the group that manages it says the 2,500 square foot space is too small for the booming resort community.  

Operators say the post office there sees more volume on an average business day than two nearby towns combined.  

They say after failed attempts to reach an agreement with the USPS to move into a larger space, they decided to end the lease, which runs through February of next year.  

The next  closest post office is in Gallatin Gateway, 30 miles away on a winding mountain road.  

That has residents here hoping for a solution, and quick, so  they don’t end up the latest post office with a closed sign on the door.