Debbie Winchester has had a box at the Bryantsville Post Office for about 15 years.
Nearly every morning about 11:30 on her way home from work at Mclain’s in Nicholasville, Winchester stops by the post office to check her box and talk with Post Mistress Sheila Price and whoever else happens to drop by the small facility in Garrard County.
That routine will change on Oct. 1, when the Bryantsville Post office will join 11 others in the area that have or soon will be downsizing their hours in the latest attempt by the United States Postal Service to save money in the face of continuing losses.
On Oct. 1, the date of Price’s retirement after 27 years, Bryantsville will have its operating hours cut in half, with window service only offered from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The lobby, which contains the post office boxes and Priority Shipping containers, will remain open around the clock.
“I just think it’s pitiful,” Winchester said. “Especially for older people who get their Social Security delivered to their box. It’s safer than having a mail box, where someone can steal it. It’s just more convenient.
“And, it’s a meeting place. You see people here you don’t see every day and just chit chat.”
Winchester’s concerns about the shrinking hours at small post offices appear to be in the minority. Out of a handful of interviews conducted last week at the Bryantsville, Perryville and Parksville post offices, she was the only one who seemed bothered.
“I hate to see the little post offices go away, but it doesn’t really affect me much,” said Brett Benton of Mitchellsburg during a stop at the Parksville Post Office in western Boyle County, where weekday hours have been cut in half. “If they’re not open, I just use the drop box outside, mostly to pay bills.”
Added Jessica Johnson of Parksville, who lives just down the street from the post office,”It’s still convenient because they left the area with the PO boxes open 24/7 so you can check your mail any time. Besides, if you need a stamp or something, you can just go to Danville. It’s not like you’re 500 miles away from another post office.”
That kind of no-big-deal reaction bears out the Postal Service’s decision to cut back the hours at a smaller, mostly rural facilities rather than close them down completely. Currently, downsizing has occurred or is planned at some 33,000 post offices around the country, including 317 in Kentucky.
“Even with reduced hours, at least the communities still have a post office,” said David Walton, spokesman for the USPS’ Kentuckiana office in Louisville.
In 2011, the Postal Service had a plan to cease Saturday deliveries and shut down thousands of small post offices across the country in an effort to cut its ongoing financial losses ($354 million in the first quarter of this year).
But, Walton said, there was such “blow back” against the plan from residents that Congress couldn’t agree on a list of post offices to shutter, leading to the hours cutback plan that is currently being implemented.
During a visit to the Kings Mountain Post Office last month, Tom Adkins, manager of operations for the Kentuckiana district told residents gathered for a meeting to discuss shortening hours at the Lincoln County facility that decisions about shortening hours did not involve politics but were based on the volume of service and traffic that each post office generates.
It was the busyness of each facility that determined whether hours were reduced from eight hours on week days down to six, four or two hours per day, with Saturday hours remaining the same.
It was impossible to learn how postal employees feel about the changes and how they impact the customers and communities they serve. Employees at the posl offices in the area affected by reduced hours are prohibited from speaking with the media.
“You could talk to 100 different employees and get 100 different stories,” Walton said. “We want to keep our message on target.”
Though postal patrons seem to be adjusting the new hours with little difficulty, many who were interviewed for this report expressed concern that the shortened hours are just the first death rattles that will ultimately lead to the demise of small, rural post offices.
Adkins and Walton insisted that there are no plans to close any post offices, but folks suspect it won’t be too far into the future when they disappear.
Perryville resident Charles Young doesn’t mind that the hours at his post office have been reduced to six per day. “I’m retired,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I can come any time I want.”
The future outlook, however, is more troublesome.
“I think they’ve done shrunk it down enough. I’d hate for it to shrink anymore,” Young said. “I’d hate to have to drive all the way to Danville to get my mail.”