Most Iowans take a post office for granted. To the people in Cedar, it’s more. It’s worth fighting for.
The United States Postal Service is trying to close hundreds of post offices around the country in an effort to save money. To hear the USPS tell it, the service is on a long losing streak. It’s losing money so fast there have been serious proposals to drop Saturday delivery.
There’s no question the USPS has been caught in a bad spot. For all the talk about the Internet being the final nail in newspapers’ coffins, no business model has been hit harder than the USPS. Every new development takes a bite out of the mail. It’s faster and free to send an email than a first-class letter. Politicians still send campaign ads in bulk, but not quite the way they used to. Mail volume has plummeted.
The business solution is to pare back. Make cuts and closures until the red ink quits coming. But in small towns it’s not that simple. The business model runs smack into daily life.
In Cedar, around 30 people came out to a meeting to protest plans to close the town’s post office. Similar numbers showed up in Kirkville. The crowds don’t sound large, but for small communities it’s an impressive show of support.
Virtually everyone came for the same reason. Post offices, they said, matter. It’s the community gathering place, a source of information about what’s happening and to whom it’s happening.
“It’s small-town identity. It’s kind of the heart of the town,” said Brenda Todd, one of the people who attended the USPS meeting in Cedar.
Small towns have lost a lot, she said. Most have lost their schools. They’ve lost people. But they have not lost their post offices, and they’re willing to fight to keep them.
Tom Pettinga is a pastor in Cedar, though that’s not his hometown. He came out on behalf of his flock.
“Even though I don’t live in this community, I represent a lot of people who do,” he said. “The post office is a place where everybody knows everybody. That’s not sectarian stuff.”
In Kirkville, Janan O’Brien, manager of post office operations, told the audience there were no easy answers. And the chances of keeping a targeted post office open aren’t good. Most offices considered for closure do eventually get the ax.
There’s a limit to how high the service can raise rates before people start shifting to other carriers, and the proposals to cut Saturdays, while a serious proposal, isn’t likely.
“Congress isn’t going to help us,” O’Brien said. “They won’t let us go to a five-day delivery.”
Small towns know about hard times. They’re not unsympathetic to economic problems; they just don’t want to lose any more.
Courier correspondent Lori Faybik contributed to this article.