I read with particular interest an article last week by Scripps Howard columnist Dan Thomasson about the current woes faced by the U.S. Postal Service, and how the agency may not be able to survive as it is currently operating.

The timing of Thomasson’s commentary was interesting given the current debate over the scaled back hours at Bluefield’s Federal Street Post Office. Thomasson detailed some of the current woes faced by the United States Post Office, including a 15 percent drop in the volume of mail now shipped by the agency and reports that the postal service could lose an estimated $7 billion in revenue this year.

In hopes of cutting back on the projected losses, the agency is once again apparently looking at doing away with Saturday delivery.

In Bluefield, hours at the Federal Street Post Office were significantly scaled back last week, creating an inconvenience to downtown business owners and those citizens who use the facility on a regular basis.

According to Cathy Yarosky, a communications program specialist with the United States Post Office, several factors went in to the postal service’s decision to limit the hours of the Federal Street branch.

She emphasized that officials have no current plans to close the Federal Street Post Office, and that the decision to reduce the retail hours was a business decision based on data showing limited foot traffic at the facility between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m.

Yarosky said the use of e-mail and other alternative postal services are the reasons why such financial cutbacks must be made by the office. Interestingly enough, she shared this observation with reporter Kate Coil through an e-mail message.

According to Yarosky’s e-mail, customers have more ways today of conducting postal business without coming into an actual post office and, as a result, we are seeing a decline in retail visits nationwide. She is correct. Maybe that is why it’s time for the U.S. Postal Service to think about expanding service as opposed to doing things like eliminating Saturday service, not to mention raising the price of stamps again.

As a working American still lucky enough to have a job, I have little time to visit the post office during the daily grind of a 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (we tend to stay past 5 p.m. in the newsroom) work cycle. Yes, I could attempt to rush to the post office early in the morning before I get to work, but that is sometimes easier said than done. You have morning traffic, and the frequent problem of getting stuck behind a motorist who is driving far too slow. Then you have the problem of finding a place to park at some postal facilities.

As an example, I drive throughout downtown Bluefield, Va., every morning on the way to work, and there is not always a parking spot available on Virginia Avenue allowing me to jump in and out quickly to the post office. Parking near Jack Asbury Square wouldn’t make a lot of sense — given the fact that I am normally pressed for time each morning.

Thus, I end up doing what millions of other Americans do — I buy those stamps or money orders I need on a Saturday at one of  those giant supercenters. That’s because the post office is not open on Saturdays. Yes, some of the smaller postal facilities are open for a half-day on Saturday mornings, but even then one might be rushed to get to one of those smaller facilities before the windows are shut at 11:30 a.m. I would much rather go to the post office on Saturday for a money order, as opposed to the local supercenter.

Here’s a thought: Why not make the post office hours a little more flexible for working folks? Why not have the post office open for longer hours on Saturday? Why not put a stamp dispensing machine back in the post office on Cumberland Road? I always used to buy stamps out of that machine. Now it is gone. Why?

The simple fact of the matter is that most folks are working during normal postal facility hours. Yes, some offices will stay open until 6 p.m. But once again, not everyone is off work at 6 p.m. If you are lucky enough to get off at 5 p.m. or 5:30  p.m., you may have other errands to run at the same time — so getting to the post office on time can still be a challenge.

And no — it’s not really all that easy to run to the post office during one’s lunch break. After all, you are supposed to be eating lunch during the so-called lunch break — not rushing out to buy stamps and a money order. And there is only so much you can do during a half-hour break. Those folks who have an hour-long lunch break may have a little bit more flex time, but even then it’s not always that easy to get to and from the cafeteria or local restaurant and then the post office and back in the midst of lunch-time traffic.

Yes, I still use the post office. No, I don’t pay my bills online. Yes, I have a few bills that come directly out of my checking account, but it is a small majority. Yes, I still buy  money orders. No, I couldn’t imagine a world without a post office, or even without Saturday delivery. And no, I’m not in favor of  another stamp increase.

Maybe it’s time for the U.S. Postal Service to look outside box when it comes to addressing the current financial challenges.

Instead of cutting back on Saturday service, how about expanding it — at least on a temporary or experimental basis if nothing else. I know a lot of people who work Monday through Friday would actually use the post office on a Saturday if it was open. I certainly would.

Finding stamps on a weekend is a hard thing to do — unless you buy an entire book of stamps. And that can get expensive after a while.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com.

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