Some Columbus Neighborhoods Experiencing “Postal Desert” as Locations Remain Closed
Sending mail over the past month has been a bit difficult for anyone looking for a post office in Downtown Columbus or its nearby urban neighborhoods.
With the removal of some US Postal Service collection boxes in Downtown, and the temporary closure of branches in the Short North and Near East neighborhoods, sending mail via the USPS has been anything but convenient.
Anyone that utilized post office boxes in the closed branches has had to pick up their mail at Columbus Main Post Office, Downtown’s main hub at 850 Twin Rivers Drive.
Customers were surprised to find a notice on the door of Mount Vernon Finance at 327 N. 20th Street, Columbus, OH 43203 on June 12. The cause of closure was not mentioned on the notice, but was confirmed by CU to be a broken air conditioning unit.
“The landlord for the Mt. Vernon Retail Unit is working on getting a contractor in to fix the air conditioning unit,” says Naddia Dhalai, Strategic Communication Specialist for USPS. Dhalai noted that once the branch is set to reopen, customers will be notified. No date was mentioned.
The Short North Retail Unit Post Office at 33 E 4th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43201 was closed late May/early June due to front door damage during the protests. It has a reopening date of Wednesday, July 15, 2020.
USPS blue collection boxes have been temporarily removed from the immediate Downtown area, in locations around High, Gay, and Spring Streets. FedEx and UPS collection boxes remained.
“The collection boxes have been removed because of protests and is a security issue,” says Dhalai. “We do plan on returning them when it is safe to do so.”
USPS collection boxes have been temporarily removed in other cities over safety concerns. In July of 2016, blue collection boxes were removed in Downtown Cleveland as “a temporary security measure to increase public safety during the Republican National Convention (RNC).”
The US Postal Service has made national news this summer as the pandemic deemed it even more essential. People have relied on it to receive information from the CDC about the pandemic and what precautions to take, to receive their CARES Act relief checks, to receive medications, to order supplies to their home, to stay in touch socially while staying at home, and to vote by mail.
At the same time, the loss of business mail volume has accelerated the US Postal Service’s fragile financial situation and Congress has not moved to bail it out or make changes to the unique requirement to prefund retiree health benefits. A social media campaign #BuyStamps gained traction in April 2020 as a response to President Trump’s indifference toward saving the post office.
I just bought a book of Marvin Gaye stamps on https://t.co/BJB94tn1cK because, among other things, I want to be able to vote by mail.— (((Claudia Miles❄️))) (@claudiamiles) April 12, 2020
Let’s all buy stamps today and save the Post Office. #SaveUSPS #buystamps https://t.co/4q0PxvJRzo pic.twitter.com/u2LYMRasVR
A campaign such as #BuyStamps contributes to the bottom line of the USPS, as “the Postal Service is funded by the users of the mail and package services, most of whom are U.S. citizens or companies and organizations that employ U.S. citizens.”
Having access to the services of the United States Postal Service has long been called an equalizer for communities and a public good.
In 2010, The Urban Institute was commissioned for a study on the benefits post offices bring to individuals and society. In the study, eight important benefits were identified: competitive consumer benefits (especially for those with low incomes), stimulating business activity, safety and security, environmental benefits using last mile delivery services, exchanging information and social connections, delivering important governmental information, and civic pride and engagement.
These social benefits contribute to a community’s well-being. When your neighborhood postal office closes, it feels like quite a loss. When the German Village post office at 500 E. Whittier was closed in May of 2019 due to unsafe building conditions, mail services moved 1.5 miles south to the South Columbus Post Office at 445 E. Innis Ave., Columbus, OH 43207. It’s about a 10 minute bus ride south on Parsons Avenue on COTA Bus #8.
When the Mount Vernon Finance branch closed, mail services were moved to Columbus Main Post Office at 850 Twin Rivers Dr., over 3 miles away. Taking transit would be about an hour investment of your time to get there, taking COTA Bus #10 to Souder Avenue, then walking 25 minutes to Columbus Main Post Office. Transit time from the Short North branch is about the same.
With those three branches serving Downtown Columbus and neighborhoods in close proximity, that meant either a trip to Twin Rivers, or a visit to the Bricker Federal Building at 200 N. High Street. To visit this location, customers must go through a metal detector to enter the building. Additionally, the hours of that branch are limited to Monday through Friday, 10am-2pm.
On June 30, 2020, The Columbus Foundation released a report on Broadband Access to learn more about the broadband gap in our community. The study found the gaps are not caused by poor broadband structure, but by barriers such as economic challenges, technological literacy, and computers or other technological hardware. These are all things needed to utilize the services on USPS.com.
One of the sources the report utilized was American Community Survey Data from 2013-2017. Taking a look at data for the Downtown neighborhoods that have also lost postal office locations shows a sizable portion of the community where 20-41% of households report they have no internet connection. For the USPS to fulfill its purpose as a great equalizer, if there are problems with internet access, we have to have physical locations open in our communities of need.
Carol Davis Jagger, owner of Jagger Homestead Collection, felt frustrated when Mount Vernon Finance, her neighborhood post office, closed with no notice. She has a PO Box there and is a heavy user of package delivery services for her eBay store. Now, she is taking everything to the Main Post Office.
“While USPS does offer package pick up, I can’t leave packages out because they get stolen (the reason for the PO Box),” she says. So now, we have to take everything to the main post office when we pick up our mail. When you ask when they’re going to open [Mount Vernon] back up, nobody seems to know.”
Visiting her local branch has always been a pleasant experience and she appreciates the proximity.
“The people at the Main PO are great—very friendly and helpful, but we miss Warren and his team at the Mt Vernon office,” she says. “We always know we can count on him whenever we need mail held or forwarded.”
Jagger is able to print her package labels from home saying “If I had to stand in line to buy postage, I would have quit long ago!”
The Downtown area has effectively been without a post office for two months.
Marc Conte, Acting Executive Director for the Downtown SID said he has not received any complaints about the removal of USPS collection boxes and that the large office buildings have mail drops.
Conte shared that USPS asked for Downtown data to research potential locations for a new Downtown post office that wouldn’t require metal detectors about a year ago, but when asked for comment, Dhalai said USPS did not have anything to share about a new Downtown location.
If you are Downtown and need to post a letter, CVS sells books of stamps and there is a mail drop inside of The Huntington Bank entrance lobby at 17 S. High Street.