Postal Service Retrenchment Forces Hartford Post Office To Curtail Hours
Lorinda MacLeod, of Hartford Village, asks a question last night at the Hartford Village Post Office. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
After a meeting for residents that rely on the Hartford Village Post Office, Postmaster Rosi O’Connell, middle, laughs with former postmaster Mary Nadeau, left, and Manchester, N.H. Postmaster Walter Rowland, right, while sharing stories of their experiences as postal employees yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Lori Dickerson, of Hartford Village, listens to a response by Manchester, N.H., Postmaster Walter Rowland to one of her questions. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Demo Sofromas, president of the Vermont Retired Postmasters, holds the door to the Hartford Village Post Office for Mary Nadeau -- who served 17 years as postmaster in the village -- before the community meeting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford — The postmaster at the Hartford Village Post Office will likely be behind the counter 10 fewer hours per week as part of the retrenchment of the U.S. Postal Service.
About 30 people squeezed into the small, single-story building along Route 14 last night to learn the results of a survey meant to determine what residents would prefer to see happen with their post office, given the economic and technological upheaval that is causing the postal service to lose billions.
“Bottom line is, we’re losing money,” said Walter Rowland, the USPS representative who led the meeting. “If you haven’t heard.”
Rowland, who is also a postmaster in Manchester, N.H., said that of the 93 returned surveys, 82 supported reduced hours as opposed to closing the post office.
Rowland said he’d take the results of the survey up the chain of command, and if the reduction of hours is approved, a notice will be sent to Postmaster Rosi O’Connell, who will put it up in the post office. The new hours would go into effect 30 days later.
For about an hour, Rowland fielded questions from residents, who even after learning that the post office might not close, remained passionate about what some see as a symbol of a bygone era.
“This is not just a question of convenience for a lot of people,” said Mary Nadeau, of Hartford, referring to people in town who don’t have cars to drive to a further office, or don’t have checking accounts and go to the post office to obtain money orders. “There are people here who don’t have those options available to them.”
Nadeau was the postmaster for the Hartford Village Post Office for 17 years before she retired in 2004, and continually noted the community feel of the small-town mail center, especially in a village that doesn’t get door-to-door mail delivery.
In the past, she’d line up home-grown vegetables and coffee on a table for customers to help themselves.
“I loved my job,” she said. “I felt like my customers were an extension of my family.”
The cutback in hours, Rowland explained, would lead to a “big split in the middle of the day,” and a total of two less hours on weekdays, during which the post office would be open from 7:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., and then from 2:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Saturday hours — 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. — would remain the same.
“I walk to this office every single day,” said Eric Chatterjee, who teaches for an online college and walks to the post office on his lunch break. He said he was considering getting rid of his car; with the proposed revised hours, he wasn’t sure he could.
Overall, though, after Rowland presented the new schedule, the questions became less testy. Before the meeting, several residents said they had heard rumors the post office might close entirely.
But once closing was revealed to not be in the cards, the discussion turned national, and residents spoke about the genesis of the issues that ultimately touched the one-story building in Hartford village.
The postal service’s plans to reduce hours at post offices nationwide were first disclosed in May, when it announced it would review 3,700 individual offices.
In recent years, people and businesses have given up snail mail for email, leading to a huge falloff in revenue for the Postal Service. Also, the company was forced by federal regulators to pre-fund employee health insurances for the next 75 years.
“We’re funding retirement plans for people who haven’t been born yet,” Rowland said, eliciting groans and murmurs from the crowd.
It caused a massive hemorrhaging of money that left the independent government agency with a $15.9 billion loss in fiscal 2012. Since 2006, the service has cut 168,000 people from its workforce. After the nationwide reductions have been put into place, the postal service expects to save about $500 million annually.
Public meetings like the one in Hartford began in local communities in October, and will go on through the first half of February.
But even as the discussion took in the bigger, national problem, those residents who were pressed against walls and P.O. boxes of the Hartford Village Post Office last night voiced more parochial concerns, such as the level of service they’d lose with fewer hours.
“You get treated like a customer here,” said Bill Wittik, of Hartford. “You get treated like a valuable customer.”
“This is almost like a community center,” said Michael Crestohl, an 11-year Hartford resident, before the meeting. “It’s a community-based post office.”
“They get to know you, and you get to know them,” said Tom Pushee, whose business account has been set up through the office for the past 15 years. “It’s a part of your community.”
If the changes go through, Rowland said, postmasters nationwide who face shorter hours will have the opportunity to apply for other, full-time jobs around the country.
After the question-and-answer session ended just before 6 p.m., residents mingled, and then headed out. O’Connell, the postmaster who could find herself working 10 fewer hours a week, emerged from the back of the office.
She said she wasn’t planning on leaving, even with fewer weekly hours.
“Absolutely, I will stay here,” O’Connell said, as the crowd dwindled. “No question.”
A half hour later, the last of the Hartford residents had gone home and the post office had largely quieted, except for O’Connell, Rowland and Nadeau, standing near the room with the post office’s front desk, lingering, trading stories.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.