The United States Postal Service says the post office at 1025 Nevin Avenue in downtown Richmond is in “excess and no longer necessary.” Kimberley Savoy-Jackson, wearing a leg brace as she walks up the post office’s steps on a rainy afternoon, disagrees.
“You see people coming in all the time,” she said. “I wouldn’t say ‘crowded,’ but it’s flowing, yeah.”
On January 25, the United States Postal Service (USPS) put up a notice on the door announcing its intent to sell the building and asking for public comment. The next-closest post office in Richmond, on San Pablo, is 2.1 miles away, a 43-minute walk according to Google Maps.
But on Wednesday afternoon, the door was propped open, obscuring view of the sign. And even in the internet age, the post office is very much still in use, rain or shine. On a recent gray and wet February day, not five minutes passed without someone going up the Nevin Avenue post office’s steps.
Savoy-Jackson and a couple other Richmond residents were unaware of the sale before being notified by a reporter. “My mail comes here. … I’m in transition right now, trying to find a permanent place, so this is perfect to have a PO Box,” she said. “The senior citizens, they come here a lot—people like myself. It would be an inconvenience trying to go thirty blocks somewhere else, or better yet, trying to find a post office.”
Augustine Ruiz, a USPS spokesperson, said the notice doesn’t necessarily mean the building will be sold, and the USPS must hold a public meeting to provide information and take comment before the building can be sold.
“We have not decided to sell this building. All we did was we posted a notice that that’s our intent,” Ruiz said.
If the post office is sold, the postal service will provide a retail window nearby where customers can still do most post office business.
“We’re not going to vacate the area. We’re not going to stop business altogether. We just need to determine where it’ll still be provided in a nearby area that’s still convenient for our customers,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone. We’ve only done a preliminary notice, which is our intent, and then we make everything very, very transparent at the public meeting.”
Ruiz said that when a date is set for the meeting, post office customers will be notified numerous ways: signs will be posted in the Nevin Avenue office, PO Box customers will receive notice in their boxes, press releases will be sent out to local media, and politicians including Mayor Tom Butt will also be notified.
At Tuesday’s Richmond City Council meeting, Councilmember Eduardo Martinez introduced a resolution opposing the sale of the post office. Seven members of the public spoke against the sale; none spoke for it. The resolution passed unanimously.
In a phone conversation with Richmond Confidential, Martinez said the post office is widely used by community members and critical to economic development efforts in the downtown area.
“You know, every time I go there, there’s a line. So it’s hard to understand that it doesn’t have enough business to stay open if there’s a line every time you go,” he said. “I think it’s essential that the post office stay open. It’s just good for business. And if we want to improve that area, the post office is a major component of the revitalization.”
Martinez said many working-class residents of the area rely on the post office for everyday business, like paying bills. “If they need anything, they need more clerks, so that the lines aren’t so long,” he said. “Lower-income people don’t have internet connection and they’re not connected with automatic payment, so they need the post office.”
Margot Smith, who spoke against the post office closure at Tuesday’s city council meeting, is a member of Save the Berkeley Post Office, a group created when the USPS announced the sale of the post office in downtown Berkeley. The Postal Service initially planned to sell the building for use as a bed-and-breakfast, Smith said, but the sale was blocked when the Berkeley City Council passed a zoning overlay requiring all properties in the area be used for the public good. The USPS is currently suing the City of Berkeley to force a change in the zoning.
“One of the things we learned in dealing with the USPS is they’re very slippery. Last night at the [city council] meeting they were talking about having a public meeting and having public input,” she said. “Well, we went through all that and they paid not any attention to us at all. This is all a phony procedure that makes it look like they’re doing something, but the end result will be they’ll go off and sell it anyway.”
Another Save the Berkeley Post Office member, David Welsh, worked as a letter carrier for the USPS for 25 years. He said the attempted sale of the Berkeley post office, and the potential sale of the Nevin Avenue post office in Richmond, are part of a nationwide trend of post office sales following policies adopted by former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. “His policies were a little extreme, and they’ve been modified a little bit, but it’s basically the same policy, and that is to downsize, privatize the Postal Service, piece by piece,” Welsh said.
The USPS has historically employed minorities including African Americans and Chinese Americans when other employers (including other government agencies) refused to hire them, and today a large percentage of its employees are minorities and disabled veterans, Welsh said. “The Postal Service has been, more than most employers, an equal-opportunity employer,” he said. “So destroying the post office is destroying the livelihood, and the possibility of livelihood, for different communities that are oppressed in this society. And so it’s an institution that is, it’s kind of like on the side of democracy.”