January 1, 2010

Post Office Closings in Rector and Export, Pennsylvania, Mirror a Larger Postal Service Problem





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     Rector is a small rural community on the outskirts of Laughlintown, Pennsylvania, near the eastern border of Westmoreland County. Rt. 381, near Linn Run State Park, passes through the community that is about five miles south of the Lincoln Highway, Rt. 30. Its population is undetermined, since it is included in a regional count. However, it has just over one hundred post office boxes.

     Export is a community of less than 830 residents, not far from Monroeville, Pennsylvania. It is on Rt. 22 in Westmoreland County, on its northeastern edge.

     These two communities are experiencing a problem common to many communities across our country: the suspension of local United States Postal Services. Both the Rector Post Office and the Export Post Office were closed when their building landlords refused to renew the Postal Service lease.

     Each community also has an advocate whose mission is to re-establish a post office in their community.

     Rector’s post office was located in a front room of a private home on Rt. 381 for 107 ½ years before it closed on August 27, 2005. The current owner of the house, Ida Ankney Tenney, was unwilling to sign the required twenty-year lease. By signing the lease, the post office facility would remain on the premises even if the family decided to sell the home.

     The then 105 postal patrons had the option of picking up their mail at the Laughlintown Post Office, where the Rector Post Office moved its services, or having home delivery.

     At the time of Rector’s Post Office relocation to Laughlintown,  Diane Svoboda, a post office media relations spokeswoman said the move was intended “to provide uninterrupted service to the customer…”  At the same time, William P. Battles of the Postal Service described the change in venue as “temporary.”

     Export’s Kennedy Avenue postal facility closed its doors on June 26, 2008, after the owner of the building in which it was located decided not to negotiate a new lease. Arthur Spagnol, who owned the building since 1962, claimed it was too expensive to make the renovations the Postal Service wanted.

     Since the closing of the Rector Post Office, Colleen Brown DiPaul has been actively seeking a solution. She recently received a letter from Annie Kennedy, Consumer Relations Specialist with the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations. It stated that “97 post offices have been suspended due to lease expiration during the past 5 years and most of them remain suspended.” The letter further stated that the Postal Regulatory Commission is investigating the emergency suspensions of post offices, and that they are attempting to understand the scope of the problem which both Rector and Export share.

     Melanie Litz, a borough councilwoman, is determined to re-establish a post office in Export.         

    “I’m not giving up until they kick me down and say, ‘This isn’t happening, lady, leave us alone,'” Litz said. “As long as there is some glimmer of hope, I will remain on the case. This is my personal quest.”

     It’s been the hope of other Export officials and residents. A committee was appointed to re-establish a post office, and a few building owners have submitted bids for a new location.

     Litz did receive a letter from Postal Service representatives that term its Post Office closure a “temporary suspension.”

     The situations in Rector and Export mirror a broader issue; post offices are struggling throughout the country. A large number of similar post office suspensions were discovered during the Postal Regulatory Commission Commission’s consideration of a closure appeal for Hacker Valley, West Virginia. Of the 37,000 postal facilities nationwide, 677 have been identified for possible closure.      

     Export’s case has garnered national attention. The National Association of Postmasters of the United States wants to take the borough’s post office closing before the Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington.

     Betty Eichler, a retired postmaster involved with the national group, maintains that post offices can be closed only in the case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster.

     “It’s not right what they’re doing. The Postal Service, in order to get around the law, temporarily suspends an office,” Eichler said. “The people have no rights. There’s nobody they can appeal to. … All I want to do is make them do it the right way.”

     However, Tad Kelly, a Postal Service spokesman in Pittsburgh, said many factors other than emergency situations can lead to a closure. “When a postmaster retires and we don’t have a replacement or there’s an owned or leased facility and the price to renew is too much, then a facility could be closed or suspended, which happened in this case,” Kelly said. “If the building is in need of vast repairs or upgrades or there’s a decline in the community. We don’t arbitrarily close or suspend without a strict criteria of reasons why.”

     The Postal Service discussed a possible 1,000-square-foot postal “retail center” near the center of Export, but there has been no further development.

     Rector residents once had hope that their Post Office would relocate in a local store, which has since closed.

     “The Commission believes it is not sufficient to simply suspend operations at a post office without promptly developing a plan to reopen or close the existing office.” Kennedy stated.

On November 9 the commission initiated a public inquiry, Docket No. P12010-1, to look into the matter.

     Interested persons may provide relevant information and share their views in writing by January 15, 2010 for. Formal statements, to be included in the public record, may be filed online at The Docket is listed at the bottom of the home page.



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