Downtown post office may close

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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A handful of customers stood in line, surrounded by paper scales, stamps, and folded package containers neatly tucked away in cubbyholes at the U.S. Post Office's downtown Iowa City location last week. A book celebrating 200 years of stamp history sat on the wall.

But in some spots, the walls were a barren off-white, where naked hooks dangled.

Today, the U.S. Postal Service will host a public forum at the office, 121 E. Washington St., to determine whether the facility should remain open.

Overall, the Postal Service is struggling. In fiscal 2010, the government-run agency incurred an $8.5 billion net loss.

"[Making cutbacks is] an attempt to align our resources where we're going to be able to provide our best services," said Richard Watkins, the spokesman for the Des Moines-based Hawkeye District of the Postal Service, who noted the service is losing roughly $23 million a day.

Watkins said nearly a dozen post offices have shut down in Iowa in the last year. Future closings are hard to predict because Postal Service officials have said they want to hold public meetings before making any cuts.

"We don't want to take a cookie-cutter approach, because it simply won't work," he said, noting officials can't simply say they're going to close a certain number of branches.

Watkins said the Postal Service has cut 200,000 jobs in the last decade, half of which came in the last two years.

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Dan Patterson, now one of two employees at the downtown location, has worked for the Postal Service for 18 years.

"I like working here; I like our customers," he said.

He said he would still be employed by the government agency regardless of the facility's future.
"I would prefer to stay here," he said.

But the hours of operation at Patterson's store have been slashed since January. The office used to be open the entire workday — 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Now, Iowa City residents who want to use the location have to get there between 11 a.m. and4:30 p.m.

One local business owner said closing the store would be a headache.

"It's a huge disservice to a lot of people to close it," said Bill Nusser, the fourth-generation owner of Hands Jewelers, 109 E. Washington St. "They're really cutting out a lot of convenience for a lot of different groups."

Nusser said he uses the post office almost every day. His proximity gives the jeweler a sense of comfort when shipping diamonds and other precious materials. If the facility were to close, he would have to take further precautions and spend more money on shipping to ensure safe delivery. He said he'd have to hire someone to transport the goods to the nearest post office.

At least one University of Iowa student said he'd also feel the effect of the closing.

"Having this post office is nice, because I can stop after my classes to take care of business," said UI junior Eric Miller who uses the facility on a weekly basis.

However, not everybody sees the post office as a community staple. Benjamin Chait, the owner of Chait Galleries, 218 E. Washington St., said he visits the post office occasionally. However, he said, closing it would have little impact on his business, because he doesn't use it very often.

"Things change," said Chait, who regularly uses the United Parcel Service and FedEx. "They don't deliver on horses anymore, either."

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