“Now, with the red ink showing no sign of stopping, the postal service is hoping to ramp up a cost-cutting program that is already eliciting yelps of pain around the country. Beginning in March, the agency [the US Postal Service] will start the process of closing as many as 2,000 post offices, on top of the 491 it said it would close starting at the end of last year. In addition, it is reviewing another 16,000 — half of the nation’s existing post offices — that are operating at a deficit, and lobbying Congress to allow it to change the law so it can close the most unprofitable among them. The law currently allows the postal service to close post offices only for maintenance problems, lease expirations or other reasons that don’t include profitability.
The news is crushing in many remote communities where the post office is often the heart of the town and the closest link to the rest of the country. Shuttering them, critics say, also puts an enormous burden on people, particularly on the elderly, who find it difficult to travel out of town.” [From Wall Street Journal, “Postal Service Eyes Closing Thousands of Post Offices” (January 24, 2011)]
As the article notes, post offices are often the social hubs of smaller communities and shuttering them has strong negative implications for social capital (chances for neighbors to see one another, renew ties, share stories, and help each other out). It was a discussion of such a scenario that prompted the Saguaro Seminar to think about Social Capital Impact Assessment.
It makes one wish there could be a creative competition for how to turn around the fate of these post offices: to enliven them and make them financially sustainable rather than closing them perhaps by leasing out some of the space. For example, what if one could combine picking up one’s mail or delivering packages with some other really important function like a convenience store or a combination Starbucks and post office. Other critics of the P.O. closings note that it is the excessive cost structure of the postal service that is to blame.