IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rural towns will really feel post office closures

Welcome to Yellow Pine, Idaho. Population: 32. Miles to nearest (big) town: 60. Cell phone service: None. Post Office: One, in the bottom floor of the postmaster's home.

Yellow Pine's post office is on the list of 3,653 that the U.S. Postal Service will review for closure. Although many have complained about the potential disappearance of certain post offices in urban areas, the loss would arguably have a much greater impact on rural communities like Yellow Pine.

"It would be a hardship for our little town to keep running without a post office," said Darlene Rosenbaum, 70, in a telephone interview.

"Hopefully they don't close it. I'm not sure what all these people would do," added Rosenbaum, who runs the Yellow Pine Lodge.

The drive to the nearest post office outside of Yellow Pine takes about three hours in the summer, and five to six hours in the winter, Rosenbaum said.

That level of isolation means a near-pristine rural environment. The area has a rugged beauty — it's surrounded by national forests — which is what attracted Rosenbaum to Yellow Pine 27 years ago when she and her husband sold their ranch in Nevada after their three girls moved away.

They bought the lodge thinking they would fix it up and put it back on the market, but they loved the natural environment of Yellow Pine so much, they decided to stay, she said.  

The town is also high in the Idaho mountains, which means it gets plenty of snow. It snows so much during the winter that it only receives their mail three days a week. Rosenbaum, who doesn't use the Internet for anything, relies heavily on the mail for hotel reservations and monthly bills.

"I use mail for my business almost every day," Rosenbaum said. "Personally, it's our whole life."

The town was founded in the early 1900s as a mining town and today is best known for its Yellow Pine Harmonica Festival that attracts about 3,000 music lovers every August.

But the post office has lost about 20 percent of its postage revenue in the past three years, said Robert Vunder, the USPS district manager of marketing for Utah and Idaho. He said its revenue for 2010 was a mere $5,000.

"If you look at $5,000 revenue in a year, and we're open 303 days, you can see that's a losing proposition," Vunder said.

Because the US Postal Service has been losing billions of dollars in the last few years, they decided to review existing retail post offices that have "low activity," which means low foot traffic, average sales of less than $50 per day and less than two hours of work per week. Most are located within five miles of another post office, but some, like Yellow Pine's postal office, are all the town has to depend on.

Here's the list of offices up for review.

If the USPS were to close Yellow Pine’s post office, the quasi-governmental agency would try and figure out a way to relocate the mailboxes somewhere else in town so that people would still be able to send and receive mail, he said. However, those who depend on Yellow Pine's mailboxes would need to buy stamps online and have them mail-delivered or go out of town to buy stamps and send packages, unless USPS could find a store that would operate as a Village Post Office.

The USPS introduced the Village Post Office as a potential replacement for postal retail offices. They would be operated by local businesses such as pharmacies or grocery stores.

Rosenbaum said she sends packages out several times a year when she's mailing things to her children and seven grandchildren, and when hotel guests leave personal items at the hotel, which happens "quite often," she said. Since her only other option would be a UPS store that is 30 miles away in McCall, Idaho, she'd be forced to make the trek there or to Cascade, the town with the nearest post office.

Steve Holloway, who owns Yellow Pine General Store and Silver Dollar Grill, said a lot of times if UPS drops off a package for someone, people know they can come to the restaurant and pick it up. He also said in the summertime they're open more than the post office is anyway.

"There’s workable solutions," he said. "But to have it dropped on us is kinda spooky ... we have more questions than answers."

Vunder said the USPS aims to have all those questions answered in the next 130-some days. The decision to review the more than 3,000 post offices for closure was a top down approach from Washington that was strictly number-based, he said. He'll be making a trip out to Yellow Pine soon to better understand their needs and how a potential closure would affect them.

"Tuesday was just day one," he said.