Funding crunch, technology issues seal fate for Ferndale post office, which will close its doors tomorrow

The Baltimore Sun

No bigger than a master bedroom, the tiny Ferndale Rural Postal Station could have inspired the phrase "the size of a postage stamp."

Inside is a cozy conglomeration of packaging supplies and needlepoint art and crocheted baby afghans sold by 27-year manager Winnie List, along with small-town hospitality and convenience.

When she shuts the post office's doors tomorrow, it will be for the last time. After 30 years as U.S. Postal Service contractors, Charles and Helen Weishaar have decided to close the post office.

This spring, the Postal Service presented a renewal offer to the Weishaars, reducing their funding but requiring them to upgrade to digital equipment at their expense.

Freda Sauter, a Postal Service spokeswoman in Baltimore, said yesterday that the business "wasn't cost-effective for us."

"We tried to work with them, and we're a business also, and we just couldn't come to an agreement," she said.

Sauter added that the Postal Service will put the Ferndale branch up for bid again next month.

So while this is the end of an era, it might not be the end of a Ferndale post office, which List said goes back at least 75 years, bouncing among about a half-dozen sites.

One of her older customers, she said, recalls that when he and his family moved to Ferndale in 1933, the mail arrived by train about 4:30 every afternoon. Since there was no home delivery, parents sent their children to pick up the mail.

He and the other boys fought over the mail bag tossed from the train, the winner being the "important kid for the day" who got to hand the bag to the postmaster in his office, which was in the back of the general store.

Ferndale's post office moved around the North County community several times before 1976, when Helen Weishaar, a homemaker raising two sons, and her husband noticed a sign in the window of the little white building next door to Law Brothers Supply Co. on Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard.

The sign announced that the U.S. Postal Service was accepting bids from people interested in opening a post office.

"My husband said, 'Let's bid. It would be great to have when I retire,'" she recalled.

A year later they opened a post office in the one-story building. When the building's owners decided to sell, the Weishaars moved their business to a new location a narrow parking lot away: a cubbyhole-size storefront in a corner of the Law brothers' hardware store.

List came on board three years later. The working conditions are less than ideal - she relies on a space heater in the winter, a window air conditioner in the summer and shares a bathroom with the hardware store. The office doesn't even have a computer.

List said she's loved working there anyway.

"I've always enjoyed my contact with the community, watching customers bring their babies, seeing those babies go off to college and marriage, and then parenthood, bringing their own children to mail their packages.

"I know many of the customers' dogs by name, because the owners feel free to bring them in," List said. "I wonder if the big post offices even allow dogs, much less talk to them and play with them."

She said the branch does almost everything the big post offices do, "except shipping overseas parcels. It's all at a leisurely pace, instead of waiting for 20 people ahead of you and knowing that there are 20 more waiting behind you."

She says that her customers come from nearby and from as far away as Owings Mills and Timonium.

"They take the train, get off and buy their stamps," List said.

She keeps as many as 25 different stamp designs on hand for them, "and then they get back on the train to go do the rest of their shopping."

Sara Frances Shay of Linthicum stops at the Ferndale post office even though there is a post office in Linthicum.

"I have stopped there because it is convenient," Shay said.

List said it's especially convenient for older customers who don't want to drive on Ritchie Highway: "They don't feel intimidated coming here."

George Law who, along with his brother, John, is the post office landlord, said, "There have been a lot of concessions to keep this going, to make it work."

He said that only recently did he increase the original rent of $200 to $225 a month.

Helen Weishaar hasn't been able to work at the post office for about 10 years because of a vision problem.

But, she said, "I enjoyed every minute of working there. People see me shopping and stop to say hello. People remember me just like they are going to remember Winnie. No matter what, it's nice when people remember you with a smile."

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