When people in the town of Blenheim gathered to plan rebuilding after last year’s destructive flooding, maintaining the local post office rose to number 6 among the 10 top priorities.
Now, residents are being asked to contemplate the future existence of their post office — a fixture some say is a feature of the community playing a broader role than just mailing letters and packages.
The U.S. Postal Service is conducting surveys at some 13,000 post offices as part of a two-year study aimed at tieing appropriate levels of service to the level of usage seen in the past.
The survey under way in Blenheim seeks input on four options, the first being a reduction in weekday service hours from 73⁄4 hours a day down to two hours. Saturday hours, from 8 to 11:30 a.m., wouldn’t change.
Three other options entail conducting a study of how to shut it down altogether and offering roadside mailbox delivery, with rural carriers providing retail and delivery service.
Another shutdown option is to find another location operated by a contractor at a local business — the village post office model — which the Postal Service suggests would offer greater hours and services albeit without a standard post office location.
The third shutdown option would send customers to another nearby post office and relocate post office boxes somewhere else.
In Blenheim, with a population of about 377, there aren’t any retail outlets where a village post office would be viable, and Town Councilwoman Anne Mattice-Strauch said the general sentiment is to keep the post office in the hamlet of North Blenheim.
The post office itself is located in a building — inundated in last year’s flood — along Route 30 that also houses Town Hall and the Fire Department.
Though Mattice-Strauch said she believes the office should be opened for more than two hours during weekdays, she believes the general sentiment in town is that closing the post office altogether is out of the question.
“It’s kind of our community gathering place at the moment. There’s no little diner anymore and people do gather at the post office,” she said. “During the week, that’s the only time people in the town see each other, pretty much you bump into them at the post office.”
Postal Service spokeswoman Maureen Marion said the agency began offering the village post office model as a way for small communities to maintain the Postal Service element that’s been a staple in their towns.
Since the Postal Service began studying ways to be more cost-efficient, Marion said, many customers feel the post office’s presence is important in the community.
Blenheim residents are being delivered a survey, and they can also pick one up at the post office. A meeting including questions and answers about the Postal Service’s planning, along with a reporting of survey results, will be held at 5 p.m. Nov. 27 at the North Blenheim Firehouse-Town Hall–Post Office building at 1748 Route 30.