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Brandsville Post Office future uncertain; other rural offices in jeopardy

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brandsville Post Office officer in charge Linda Bunch works behind the counter in the 130-year-old post office Friday, July 8. The post office is one of thousands across the country being studied by the U.S. Postal Service for possible closure.
When the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service began in 2009 studying sites to close, rural post offices were not on the hit list.

That has since changed, and has many residents concerned about the future of their local offices. The most recent to come under scrutiny is the tiny Brandsville Post Office in southern Howell County.

Moody also is being studied for closure; Pottersville, also in Howell County, recently gave up two rural routes to West Plains. Brandsville gave up its one rural route to West Plains in the 1940s.

The Brandsville Post Office has been housed in this leased building on Main Street since about 1960, after moving from the now-vacant store building next door. Residents fear the post office may shut down soon for good as the U.S. Postal Service looks for ways to combat billion-dollar debt.
Housed in a leased 130-year-old building since on the city's main street since at least the early 1960s, the Brandsville Post Office has 88 post office boxes, 43 of which are rented to most of the adult population (174 residents on the 2000 census).

Officer in Charge Linda Bunch said many rural residents prefer to use the post office boxes because they fear mail being stolen from their mailboxes. They also feel more secure mailing bills from the office, she said.

Since federal law does not allow the postal service to close offices simply because they are not making money, the agency has found other reasons to close an office -- such as a pending retirement of a postmaster or a lease expiration.

Bunch, who has worked part-time for the office for 25 years, quit a good-paying, 34-year job at Marathon Electric to work full-time at the office when Postmaster Frances Stirewalt retired last December.

Although Bunch performs the duties of a postmaster, the postal service gave her the title of officer in charge, thereby leaving open an opportunity for shutting down the site.

Huge deficit

According to the federal agency, it lost a record $8.5 billion in 2010, and continues to lose ground as more Americans communicate and shop online. The economic recession also has hurt the junk-mail business as retailers cut back on advertising.

On June 25, the postal service held a community meeting at the Brandsville Pentecostal Mission Church to give residents an opportunity to voice their concerns about the possibility of losing their office. More than 50 people attended.

Besides the convenience and security of the local office, many at the meeting said they also fear the city losing its identity to West Plains, 14 miles to the north. The two cities share many of the same street names, such as Pine and Main, which is a unique problem, Bunch said.

If the consolidation goes through, the city's address will be City of Brandsville, West Plains, Mo.

"That's where all the confusion comes in," Bunch said.

If the Brandsville offices closes, and residents choose to get an post office box, they will drive 22 miles round trip to West Plains or about 14 miles to Koshkonong and back.

The U.S. Postal Service has not put out much information, even to employees. An official list of sites being considered for closure does not exist.

Closing the Brandsville office would not save much money, anyway, Bunch said.

Myrtle Post Office

Myrtle Postmaster Fredona Riley said postal employees have been told to refer media questions to the postal service's public relations department.

Riley, who is not due to retire anytime soon, said she could say, however, that the Myrtle office is being studied now to possibly reduce business hours. It is not being studied for closure, so far as Riley knows.

Early post offices

Since forming in 1845, Oregon County has had 61 post offices, four of which (Alton, Koshkonong, Thayer and Myrtle) are still open, according to "Missouri Post Offices 1804-1981."

The most recent closings in the county were Couch, 2004; Thomasville, 1979; Rover, 1945; and New Liberty, 1941.

Thomasville was the county's first post office, in service consecutively from 1846-1979, closely followed by offices in the now nonexistent Jobe and Warm Fork communities. Jobe and Warm Fork both were open from 1848-63 and then closed during the Civil War. Jobe reopened from 1867-88 and Warm Fork from 1870-83.

The bulk of the county's post offices were open less than 20 years, generally opening in the late 1880s and closing before 1910.

Three offices (Lost Camp, Ross and Royal Oak) were open one year each -- 1857, 1908 and 1894, respectively.

Of those in service today, Alton is oldest, having opened in 1860, followed by Myrtle and Thayer in 1884 and Koshkonong in 1893.

The county, now at 792 square miles, once occupied more territory before the state was divided into smaller, manageable counties.

The West Plains Post Office was part of Oregon County from 1848-58. Birch Tree also had an office in the county in 1858 before becoming part of Shannon County.

Changing times

As mail volume declines, the postal service could close or consolidate as many as 3,200 offices and retail outlets nationwide, out of 34,000. About half are being studied for closure.

Last year, Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress for the right to halt Saturday deliveries, saving approximately $3.5 billion. When that request failed, the postal service began eying offices to close.

Typically, as in the case of Moody and Brandsville in Howell County and Gepp in Fulton County, Ark., the postal service will send out customer surveys, closely followed by a community meeting held in a non-threatening place, such as a church.

The postal service will study the response further, and generally make a decision within 60 days. About 500 post offices have closed since last year.

Appealing a decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission, independent of the postal service, also is possible.

The postal service dates to the nation's birth, with Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Franklin serving as the first postmaster general.

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