The downtown Columbus post office has received a stay of execution for now. But a number of local organizations are trying to figure out what — if anything — can be done if a proposed closure moves from conjecture to certainty.
After losing $8.5 billion in 2010, the U.S. Postal Service announced in July that 3,653 locations nationwide were under review for closure, including Columbus’ historic downtown branch. Sixty-one Mississippi post offices are on the list, but a moratorium was issued Dec. 15, forestalling a decision until May 15.
The news came as a relief to Lowndes County Chancery Judge Jim Davidson, a board member with the Lowndes Community Foundation, but he said people need to remain vigilant to the possibility. To save the post office, he has spoken with Columbus Mayor Robert Smith about organizing an ad hoc committee of concerned citizens and agencies such as Main Street Columbus and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Our position would be that we don’t want any post office in Columbus closed,” Davidson said Friday afternoon. “You run the fear that they’ll cut one of the others out. I think that hurts everybody.”
Steve Chism, a postal clerk at the Bluecutt office, thinks that’s a possibility. His personal feeling is USPS may choose to close the Fairlane office in East Columbus instead because it is renting that space whereas it owns the Bluecutt and downtown locations.
Bluecutt and Fairlane have the most post office box customers, though. Bluecutt has 1,073, and Fairlane has 829. The downtown location has 712.
But that doesn’t take into account foot traffic and other intangibles.
“It’s a historic building, so it would be a sin to close it,” Chism said of the downtown office.
The issue is a top priority for Main Street Columbus, Director Amber Brislin said. She has written a letter to USPS asking that the downtown location remain open. The problem now, she said, is figuring out what to do next.
Mississippi Main Street Association has fought closures at the state and national levels in the past, but those efforts have been unsuccessful, said Central District Director Jan Miller of Columbus.
“This one, to me, would be devastating,” she said of the downtown office. “It would really affect us. Most of the towns I work in still have their post offices. Whenever you’re downtown, that becomes the hub for all activity. It keeps traffic flowing into your downtown. … I just don’t understand why this one was picked.”
It’s a matter of economics, said USPS spokesman Mark Saunders. The postal service receives no taxpayer support, and mail volume has plummeted nationwide by more than 20 percent as Americans migrate to the Internet for bill paying and correspondence.
“Most people use the Internet,” Saunders said. “Kids use email, text, Twitter. We’re just adjusting to our customers’ changing mailing trends.”
He believes local residents have done all they can to prevent the closure and nothing will happen until May 15. No action will be taken until after a community meeting.
Still, Davidson and Brislin remain concerned.
“I can’t imagine not having a downtown post office, particularly one that’s on the Historic Register,” Davidson said. “We’ve done so much to make our downtown attractive. … I think it’s really unacceptable to close any of them.”
He said the Lowndes Community Foundation has discussed landscaping to make the front of the building more attractive, along with cleaning the exterior and painting.
“I would rather say, ‘Well, they closed our post office, but by God we tried and we can look ourselves in the mirror,'” he said. “Nothing you put there could take its place. I would just be so disappointed in that.”
The building, built in the Colonial Revival architectural style, is detailed in a 17-page document filed in 1980 with the National Register of Historic Places.
In the document, it is listed as one of the “three most significant governmental public buildings in the community,” along with the Lowndes County Courthouse and Columbus City Hall.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.