WHEN YOU WALK through the door of the Highland post office, you know it's a special place. You've stepped into a scene from small-town America a few decades ago.
The post office is small and crowded. The walls and shelves are full of colorful boxes, padded envelopes and stationery for sale. Everything is just an arm's length away -- including the postal staff.
The staff is warm and friendly. If you live in Highland, staff members will probably greet you by name; if you don't, you'll still feel welcome.
"Most everybody who comes in, we know by name," said Carol Simmons, the relief postmaster.
Much of the credit for creating a feeling of community in the trailer that houses the post office belongs to Postmaster Bill Dailey, or "Postmaster Bill" as he is called by residents.
"We believe in the community," Dailey says. He has lived in the area for 24 years and has been Highland postmaster for six.
A bulletin board outside the front door invites customers to post business cards and fliers announcing community activities. Customers can send and receive faxes, and make copies for a small fee.
Dailey often goes beyond the call of duty to help neighbors. He has assisted patrons whose cars have broken down in the parking lot and down the road. He recently took his chain saw to the home of an elderly woman to cut up large limbs that had fallen during last week's storm.
Dailey and Simmons are assisted by counter clerk Kathy Archuleta, distribution clerk Eun Kim and three highway contractors (as they are called by the U.S. Postal Service) who deliver the mail in their own vehicles.
The staff members -- Dailey calls them "the team" -- serve 1,200 households and businesses. Over the years, they have sponsored many community events.
Dailey and Simmons celebrate Halloween by dressing in costume and inviting all of Highland to stop by for a treat. The Easter bunny visits each spring. And during the holiday season, the postal staff receives dozens of homemade baked goods from customers.
Photos of these activities are displayed in the post office.
Dailey, Simmons and Archuleta do more than create goodwill in the neighborhood. They run a first-rate post office.
The Highland post office, Dailey says, has been No. 1 in customer service in the Capital District for the past three years. The honor is based on results of customer satisfaction surveys.
"We get a lot of people who come here because of the service," Dailey said, referring to customers who come from other postal areas in Howard and Montgomery counties.
The Highland post office, at Routes 216 and 108, is the northernmost post office in the Capital District, which includes 184 offices in southern Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Dailey and his staff have won numerous awards from the district for outstanding sales of such items as delivery confirmation slips. The plaques and certificates are proudly displayed on the "award wall."
Deborah Yackley, spokeswoman for the Capital District, said many post offices have community support but that Highland stands out.
"The people of Highland are a special group," she said. "That's attributed to the local postal employees there. They have served their customers so well."
The Highland staff's hard work and exceptional customer service are achieved under less than optimal conditions. The trailer was intended to house the post office for five years.
Dailey says he has heard people refer to the Highland office as "the post office the size of a postage stamp."
This summer, ground was broken for a new post office, and members of the community made suggestions, in meetings and surveys, as to how the building should look and what features it should have.
The new site is about a quarter-mile west of the current location on Route 216.
Dailey explained that the Highland Post Office has outgrown its quarters. The utilities and parking are inadequate, and more space is needed to handle increased business.
"We don't want to lose the atmosphere we have here," he said. "But there comes a time when you have to move."
Dailey is excited about the new building. He checks on the progress of construction every day. The foundation has been poured, and some brickwork completed. Framing will begin soon.
"It will be a unique stick-built facility with lots of customer input," Dailey said. He said the intent is to construct a modern post office that blends in with the country landscape.
An artist's rendering of the new building hangs above the counter at the current site.
Among the features of the new facility will be a tin roof (to blend in with local architecture), indirect lighting indoors and out, and a 24-hour lobby -- all situated on 3 acres of farmland. The parking lot and driveways are designed for easy traffic flow.
"This is a big thing around here," Simmons said.
In February, the top-notch Highland staff will move into a new, top-notch facility. A large community celebration is being planned.
Dayton residents are busy planning the fifth Dayton Daze Parade and Picnic, to be held Oct. 3.
The parade lineup will begin at 12: 30 p.m. on Dayton Meadows Court, off Howard Road. The parade will begin at 1 p.m. and will follow a one-mile route along Howard Road and Green Bridge Road, ending at Eden Valley, a retreat and residence of Bette Hoover.
Participating will be Scout troops, 4-H Club members, antique cars, decorated bicycles and anyone who cares to march. Neighbors are invited to watch the festivities from the side of Green Bridge Road.
Everyone is invited to the picnic at Eden Valley after the parade. Food will be for sale, or picnic dinners can be brought from home. Music and games are also planned.
Dayton Daze was started in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Lenny Hobbs' gas station on Ten Oaks Road.
Hobbs died last year, but his wife, Evelyn "Babe" Hobbs, still takes part in the fun.
The rain date is Oct. 10.
For information, call event chairman Ted Davis at 410-531-7851.
Pub Date: 9/23/99