Stamps offered at new drive-through


Move over burgers. Here come stamps and priority mail.

When Bel Air residents go to their post office Saturday, they may be in for a ride -- the state's first drive-through postal station.

"It's going to be like a McDonald's," said Richard W. Rudez, the post office's Baltimore district customer service manager.

The red, white and blue unit will have its own traffic lane and service menu. One postal worker will staff the $80,000 facility, which looks like a throwback to Fotomat kiosks that once dotted shopping mall parking lots.

To prevent long lines, the drive-through -- which will be one of a handful in the country -- will offer only basic services, such as express mail, parcel post, priority mail, postage stamp sales and money orders. The window's hours will be the same as new lobby hours, which take effect Sept. 6 -- 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Drive-through service is one way the Postal Service is trying to lure back customers who patronize a growing number of private delibery companies, such as Federal Express, Mail Boxes Etc., Postman Plus and United Parcel Service.

"The philosophy is to do what they don't do," Mr. Rudez said. "The convenience of a drive-through is something they don't have."

Postal officials hope the new feature will be particularly convenient for parents with children and handicapped people, said Bobbie J. Green, the Bel Air office's customer service supervisor.

Bel Air was chosen as the pilot site because it is a growing community that has an increasing number of alternative mail services, postal officials said. Bel Air Postmaster Charles A. Kratz says his office handles 500,000 pieces of mail a day.

The country's first drive-through post office opened in 1952 in Leaf River, Ill., said Sandra Harding, a spokeswoman at U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington. To date only a few offices offer the option, but it is popular wherever it is offered.

Virginia opened its first drive-through office at the Burke branch, in suburban Washington, in 1989 and last year opened one in Portsmouth in a converted military guard shack.

Recent figures from the Portsmouth office show that the drive-through has increased revenue 22 percent, said Debra Yackley, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service's Baltimore district.

The Bel Air kiosk will arrive from Indiana this week. The Bel Air post office has scheduled a grand opening at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, which will coincide with the 200th anniversary of mail delivery in Harford County.

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