Richmond is running out of time to save downtown’s Main Post Office.
City officials offered to buy the property at its market value of $900,000 and are anxiously waiting for a response from the United States Post Office. But if Richmond and USPS cannot come to an agreement by October 16, the property will be put up for sale, and its retail operations will move to the nearby McVittie Annex.
The current offer — which Mayor Tom Butt described as “more than generous” — would not only give the city control of the building, but would also allow USPS to stay open without paying rent for perpetuity.
“In the best of worlds, they’ll come around and see that we’re the best offer they’ll get,” Butt said.
But with no response from USPS representatives and a looming deadline, Butt’s outlook is grim. “I think we still have a chance, and we’re looking at some other possibilities,” he continued, “but things are not going our way right now and it’s hard to be optimistic.”
A spokesperson for USPS did not return calls to discuss the deal or the location’s closure.
The loss of the post office, which has been open downtown at 1025 Nevin Avenue since 1938, will be a hard hit for nearby business owners, who rely on the conveniently located branch for their shipping needs, and the downtown foot traffic it generates.
“I use the post office to ship customer orders a lot,” commented Ghaliyah Roberts-Palmer, who owns Gratitude, a downtown gift shop that sells dashikis, jewelry and incense. She says that the loss of the post office will have a big impact on Gratitude.
“I’m a small business,” she explained, “convenience really matters.”
Roberts-Palmer also says the post office helps encourage people to walk around downtown, giving visitors a reason to get out of their cars and explore the neighborhood, instead of just going to the Kaiser facility or the Social Security Administration building next door.
The nearby East Bay Center for the Performing Arts was equally dismayed. “We use that post office every other day,” said operations and production manager Dan Weierman.
Abena Ansley, a Richmond resident and small business owner, is baffled by USPS’ decision. “I don’t get it, why they would close this post office down. It serves everyone,” she said as she waited in line to ship packages. Ansley, who walked to the Nevin branch towing her two small grandchildren and her packages in a plastic wagon, uses the post office three to four times every week, sometimes twice a day, to ship for her at-home business.
She says that by closing the branch, USPS is “cutting off the lifeline to the community.”
Richmond isn’t the only city to wrestle with USPS over the closure of retail sites. In 2016, the City of Berkeley attempted to prevent USPS from selling its downtown branch through a city ordinance. USPS sued and the two are still locked in a legal battle over the site.
Since 2011, USPS has closed more than 300 branches across the country in an attempt to transform the service into what former Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe described as a “smaller, leaner, and more competitive” operation.
USPS has struggled financially under pressure from pension requirements and from competitors like FedEx and UPS, both of which make deliveries and pickups from homes or businesses and have invested significant amounts of money in building more efficient delivery operations. In 2014, USPS invested over $500 million to increase capacity, including new computer systems that calculate faster, more efficient routes for drivers. This year, FedEx announced it is looking into creating artificial intelligence and robotics initiatives to help the company keep its competitive edge.
Meanwhile, USPS’ attempts to reign in costs are only further compounding the problem. Since the service began closing post offices in 2011, it has steadily lost business. In 2016, USPS handled over 13 billion fewer pieces of mail than it had in 2011, hitting its lowest rates since 1987.
At the 1025 Nevin Avenue location, customers frequently encounter slow lines. Although the office has multiple registers, only one cashier is usually on duty.
With such poor service — and without a conveniently accessible branch nearby — Gratitude’s Ghaliyah Roberts-Palmer is considering other options for her shipping needs. “I’ll probably look to use FedEx or UPS,” she said