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Laurel Mall post office on list for possible closure

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The post office in the Laurel Mall is on the list of 3,700 post offices, postal stations and branches that federal officials are considering closing as officials look for ways to reduce costs.

In addition to the mall post office, 42 other postal facilities in Maryland face the possibility of closure, including the one in Towson Town Center, the Carroll post office in Baltimore and the Suitland post office.

The U.S. Postal Service is faced with a steady flow of red ink. According to postal officials, the agency is expected to lose more than $8 billion this year, even after cutting more than 110,000 positions over the past four years.

"The Postal Service is doing everything we can to remain affordable to our customers, but the postal service is in a dire financial predicament," said spokeswoman Freda Sauter.

When postal officials announced last week their study of the viability of the facilities on the list, they said they compiled it based on factors including customer demand, revenue, expenses and a post office's proximity to other branches and nonpostal outlets, such as grocery stores that sell stamps and other postal products.

"I was not surprised that Laurel Mall was on the list," said Laurel's acting postmaster, Chuck Malinich. "I came to Laurel in December, and it's (customer traffic) declined since that time. If it closes, there is a contract postal unit on Cherry Lane, nearly across the street from the mall."

The Laurel Mall post office is one of three in the city, the other two being in the 300 block of Main Street, near Route 1; and on Route 197 in the Crystal Plaza shopping center. The mall facility is tucked away on a side hallway on the first floor. It has only two service windows for its two employees, and has its heaviest traffic during the lunch hours and just before closing time at 5 p.m.

Although there were no long lines at lunchtime last week, there was a steady flow of customers at the mall postal location, such as Katy Beard, who works at Macy's in the mall and uses the post office there often.

"This is convenient for me because I work at the mall, and I really don't know where the other post offices are in Laurel," Beard said. "If it closes, I understand that from an economic standpoint, because it's small and there's not a lot of traffic here at the mall, so the post office is not heavily used."

Joseph Adams lives near the mall and is hoping the shopping center's post office stays open because its location is more convenient for him than the other two sites. The closing of the post office would also cost him as a businessman, he added.

"I have a postal box here for my entertainment business, and all my mail for that — checks, etc. — come through that post office box," Adams said. "If it closes, I'll have to get another box somewhere, notify all of my clients and have the expense of changing my business cards, letterhead and everything. So, I hope it doesn't close."

Postal officials are quick to point out that they have not yet decided to close any of the facilities on the list, but say they seek ways to become a leaner, smaller agency. The Postal Service currently has 32,000 retail offices, and more than 70,000 other locations where postal products and services are offered.

"Before any decisions are made on those on the list, there will be community meetings held for customers to come out and make comments, which we will take seriously," Sauter said.

Officials say that because more than 35 percent of Postal Service revenue comes from sales in grocery stores, drug stores, office supply businesses, automated tellers, self-service kiosks, retail chains and its own website; they see the agency moving away from brick-and-mortar outlets.

"Our customer's habits have made it clear that they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business," U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a press release.

Last week, postal officials also announced that they will introduce a village post office initiative they say will benefit communities that never had post offices or might lose them. The village post offices would be operated by local businesses, such as grocery and drug stores, and would offer stamps and packaging services.

"By working with third-party retailers, we're creating easier, more convenient access to our products and services," Donahoe said.

There are nearly 3,700 WalMart, 7,200 Walgreens and 945 Safeway stores that sell postal stamps; and 1,130 Office Depot stores that offer stamps, and other postal products and services. But as some customers have complained and postal officials have admitted, there are many services and products offered by traditional post offices that are not available in those retail outlets and won't be available in the village post offices.

"The franchise they have on Cherry Lane doesn't do money orders and you can't do everything there that you can in the post office," said Naomi Thomas, who lives on Cherry Lane and uses the mall post office because of its shorter lines and large parking lots.

"The village post offices won't offer money orders, but they will sell boxes, stamps and flat-rate packages," Sauter said. "People can also get some services online, such as package pickups; they can print out their stamps; schedule for their mail to be held or sent to an alternate address online. They have the post office at their fingertips (online)."

Wallace Gooden has lived in Scotchtown Hills, in Laurel, for 20 years. He said that he's concerned that if the mall post office closes, many people on his side of town will be inconvenienced.

"The mall is a good, central location," Gooden said. "I also come here because of the hassle of traffic and parking on Main Street. Parking's not a problem here, so I hope they keep it open."

Postal officials said they hope to have community meetings set up in affected areas within the next 60 days and to render their decisions on which facilities will close within four months. Postal officials are also pushing for mail delivery to be reduced from six days to five days to help stem their increasing losses. They estimate that moving to a five-day service would save the agency $3.1 billion.

"But that decision," Sauter said, "is up to Congress."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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