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New post office plan draws praise, criticism

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WEST STOCKHOLM - Martha L. Johnson greeted customers at the West Stockholm Post Office Thursday as she does every morning: on a first name basis.

Some customers walked across the one-lane bridge over the St. Regis River to get to the office: there’s only room for a couple of cars in the parking lot. There used to be other businesses nearby, but the general store and Gibson’s grist Mill burned down decades ago. The post office became the place to see and be seen in West Stockholm; historic pictures of the hamlet hang on the wall.

“It’s here we get to greet our neighbors, our friends,” according to Phyliss A. Hunter, a hamlet resident for 50 years. “It’s great to check in and see how everyone’s doing.”

“It’s just a landmark,” added Elswood A. Love, a West Stockholm resident for 12 years.“It’s the nerve center.”

For a time, that nerve center’s future was in question. West Stockholm was one of nearly a dozen north country post offices slated to close under the USPS’ original consolidation plan.

Wednesday, the post office scrapped that plan, saving West Stockholm and many other small-town post offices like it. While the branch will operate on reduced hours, a staple in West Stockholm life - the daily trek to pick up the mail once it’s delivered by 11 a.m. - has been maintained.

The office is needed there, according to Ms. Johnson. Nearly half of the branch’s 105 P.O. boxes are for elderly residents in the area who would struggle to travel to Potsdam or Winthrop each day. Closing the post office would mean one less community space West Stockholm residents share with each other.

“It’s their everyday stop to see their neighbors,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s their local meeting place.”

“It’s pretty much the only hangout up here,” added Amber M. Fetterly, a post office trainee.

Several uncertainties, including which hours will be cut at West Stockholm and when that will take place, still remain. But Thursday morning’s banter between Ms. Johnson and her customers was only about the office’s reprieve.

“It’s the camaraderie of seeing different people,” according to Norma J. Cyrus, who conversed with Ms. Johnson for several minutes about a piece of mail she had been expecting.

Ms. Johnson credited West Stockholm resident Darrell Tracy with organizing an effort to save the post office. Mr. Tracy could not be reached for comment.

While West Stockholm residents celebrated this week, new questions emerged for post offices down the road in Winthrop, Brasher Falls and North Lawrence.

None of those offices had been on any closure or reduction list. Now, North Lawrence will be cut from eight hours to four and Brasher Falls and Winthrop will see their hours reduced from eight to six.

Over 50 offices in Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties will see their hours reduced. Restructuring the Postal Service’s rural post offices could mean shared postmasters for the state’s smallest communities. That opportunity could be available if postmasters take an early retirement incentive and their former positions become absorbed by another postmaster at a neighboring post office.

Richard Geiser, postmaster at the Winthrop post office, said he did not want to make assumptions about what would happen to his office. There needs to be more information, he said.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said.

Richard J. Lane, the retired superintendent of the St. Lawrence Central School District, has used the Brasher Falls Post Office for decades.

He wasn’t concerned with an hours reduction affecting him or other customers. If inconvenienced, he could drive a little over a mile to Winthrop’s office, or northward or southward for several miles to North Lawrence or Helena.

“This won’t affect us at all,” he said. “It’ll affect the employees.”

He did not support the new plan because it could affect many more of the post office employees than the old one. He predicted the new strategy would cause a reshuffling of staff and more senior employees “bumping” those with less experience.

“How do you equate what they were going to do with what they did do?” he asked.”More people will be affected this way than would have been in their original plan ... I was never opposed to the original.”

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