The United States Postal Service introduced yet another program in July 2011 to sell stamps somewhere other than a normal post office.
Located primarily in small towns, Village Post Offices have only two missions: to sell booklets of stamps and to have Priority Mail flat-rate boxes available to take.
The VPO has no scales to weigh packages, nor Priority Mail stamps available for purchase. To use the Priority Mail service, most customers have to buy the forever stamps and stick them on the box.
Commemorative stamps are not sold in VPOs, but Christmas and other holiday stamps may be available in season.
Since VPOs neither cancel mail nor offer any special postal services like registered, certified or insured mail, VPOs do not have a postmarking device: no black four-bar cancel or red round-date cancel.
Each VPO is supposed to have a green dated Aviation Security marking device. This is used when a Priority Mail package is accepted, but this marking is not used to cancel stamps. This auxiliary marking includes the USPS logo along with the city, state, ZIP code and VPO name.
A postal contract is required to operate a VPO. Each month I submit a Freedom of Information Act request to USPS headquarters requesting a list of every VPO in the United States and how much each location is paid.
This financial data is revealing.
The average VPO operator is paid about $1,000 a year to sell stamp booklets and to have Priority Mail boxes available to pick up. But the high end and low end of these contracts is fascinating.
A store in Bigelow, Ark., and a bank in Rhineland, Mo., are each paid $1 a year to have a VPO.
A store in Mount Auburn, Ill., recently opened a VPO for $2 a month, or $24 annually.
At the other end of the spectrum is Gerstner Hardware in Glenn, Mich. The store reaps $9,200 for its VPO.
Other locations in Cordova, Alaska, and Prospect, Ky., earn $4,000 annually to do the same thing that VPOs in Arkansas and Missouri do for $1.
While VPOs are designed to operate in smaller towns, three larger California cities have VPOs: San Diego, San Francisco and San Bernardino. All three locations receive $1,000 or more for their efforts at selling stamps and passing out boxes.
I recently visited the VPO in Gratiot, Wis., on a Sunday afternoon. It is located in a convenience store in a town with a population of 236. Many travelers stop at this location for snacks.
The rack of Priority Mail boxes is in the back of the store past the DVD rentals, dog food and cases of beer.
As I waited to pay 61¢ for my can of pop, the only employee was making ice cream cones for other customers. When she came to the cash register, I asked for some stamps. She replied that they had none because they had run out.
This VPO receives $1,500 a year to operate, which is $400 more than the previous VPO operator in the same town was paid.
VPOs have another significant cost: signs. Outside each location is a big sign with the USPS logo, the words “Village Post Office,” and the city, state and ZIP code. These are more modern than the signs at many real post offices. Some VPO signs are illuminated at night.
Another FOIA request (which took several months to fulfill) revealed the price of these signs.
An average, unlit outside sign is $1,700. The illuminated ones cost more, with a top price of $2,300.
These signs have been used in communities so small they are not even incorporated. Such costs are amazing for a government agency that loses millions of dollars every day.
The aggregate costs for VPOs can be staggering.
Indiana has the largest number of VPOs for any one state. In just one postal district, more than $75,000 is paid annually to run its VPOs, and at least another $65,000 has been spent on VPO signs. This equals $140,000 to just sell stamp booklets and have a pile of boxes available.
One Indiana store owner told me he sold stamps for years before becoming a VPO. He gladly signed a VPO contract to get paid for doing the same thing.
The DeMotte, Ind., VPO cost more than $5,000 in 2013. Yet people cannot get their mail after 5 p.m., since the real post office lobby is “not secure” and cannot be left open all the time.
What is the better use of $5,000 in this situation?
How is the VPO program generating any new revenue for the Postal Service anywhere in America?