Sykesville businesses and residents are hopeful a satellite post office will help revitalization efforts, as the town grapples without a downtown post office - a magnet for foot traffic - for the first time in nearly 170 years.
"A post office gives a sense of community and brings people to town - both elements are important to revitalizing downtown," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.
The rapidly developing community of 3,500 had long outgrown the 25-year-old postal building on Village Road, a few blocks from Main Street. The town had no location spacious enough for a much larger building with all the latest amenities. More parking was also essential. Cars often idled on Village Road waiting for a spot on the crowded lot.
So postal officials chose a 3-acre parcel a few miles away on Route 32 in Eldersburg and built a nearly $3 million structure that more than quadrupled postal space. The old building, soon to be home to a computer company, cancelled its last stamps June 17, and the mailroom opened in Eldersburg two days later.
No one is happier than postal employees who were so crowded in the old building that they had been concerned about their health. Six years ago, it took intervention from Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett to clean the structure's air ducts, and complaints later diminished.
The new building is still called the Sykesville Main Post Office, but "Eldersburg, Md." is written beneath the sign. Sykesville and Eldersburg share the 21784 ZIP code.
About 50 employees now have more breathing room and a lunch room - mail had long ago taken the place of their makeshift cafM-i at the old site. Sykesville P.O. staffs 27 routes, delivering about 100,000 pieces of mail daily. Customers relish the postal store, the parcel lockers and the rows of postal boxes, which are accessible 24 hours a day.
"This one is a lot better than the old one, with more conveniences," said Garry Clements of Eldersburg. "I can't find a thing wrong with it. It is really like coming into the 21st century."
But Esther Cleamons, who collects mail from her postal box daily, misses the 20th-century atmosphere that drew residents to the old building.
"I used to see the same people every day," she said. "This morning, I didn't see anybody. You miss seeing your friends."
For Michael Willinger, the 3.7-mile drive from his Sykesville residence to Eldersburg is not a tragedy, but he says the absence of a town post office signals one.
"This is what happens to small towns, when everything builds up around them," he said. "The dry cleaner and the drugstore go, then the post office. Everything slowly evaporates."
Wiley Purkey, owner of a framing shop on Main Street, sees nothing but "remarkable inconvenience."
"It has already made me change several aspects in the way I do business," Purkey said. "We have had a post office here since 1837. Now we have to share our postmark with Eldersburg. Why couldn't they leave things alone?"
The town knew years ago that the post office would be going.
"The move may be a blessing in disguise because we can actually move the satellite office closer to Main Street," the mayor said.
A smaller, replacement office with limited hours was always on the horizon, but so far no merchant has offered the space. When Ron Jackson, former president of the Sykesville Business Association, provided shop owners with the information on a satellite office, there were no takers.
"When they found out there was no money in it and that it was only meant to draw people, there was no interest," Jackson said.
The town is considering options, including an office at the Town House, seat of municipal government, or at a tourism center under construction along Main Street. If it means creating a full-time position to staff the site, the town is willing.
"A post office is symbolic; it means you are a town," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. "It is like having a bank and a drugstore. They are all staples of town life."
Gordon Seabury, acting marketing manager for the Postal Service, does not understand the angst. Many small towns in Carroll, including Detour, Linwood and Middleburg, lost their post offices long ago, never to have them replaced.
"The location is what Sykesville has lost; they haven't lost a post office," he said. "It is still the same ZIP code. The move was long overdue and long needed."
The Postal Service will "try for a presence on Main Street," Seabury said. It is also looking for a contractor.
"We try to maintain a downtown presence, if we can," he said. "Obviously, in the older, historic communities, there is not the space to support the larger structures the public is demanding."
The town is determined to have a post office downtown, Candland said. "It's our highest priority as we work to invigorate and revitalize downtown," he said.