Post office copes with holiday mail

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— In the back of Steamboat's downtown post office, behind the colorful stamp displays and the smiling post office employees, sit thousands of pieces of mail waiting to be picked up. The mail sits in metal carts, rests on top of mailboxes and is stacked in piles around employees' desks.

"The next thing you know, there's going to be mail in the bathrooms," said Karen Myers, who along with other post office employees has been working seven days a week during the holiday rush.

The Steamboat post office has extended its hours during the holiday season to accommodate the influx of mail it has been receiving. The post office is opening one and a half hours early, at 7 a.m., to handle the demand for service.

The holiday rush this year translates into about 70 percent more mail than last holiday season, said Steamboat Postmaster Bill Butler. The post office has been handling about 1,700 packages a day for the past two weeks as compared to the usual load of about 800 packages. The mail truck drivers have been making two extra truck trips a day to Denver just to handle the volume of mail, Butler said.

And the volume of mail has been growing every year, said Customer Service Supervisor Bigil Padilla.

"Each year we get more and more mail, because the town is growing," said post office employee Jeff Bolen.

Although the line included only about eight people at lunchtime Tuesday, Monday's rush proved to be the most hectic day of the year for postal workers. Butler said the lines were perpetually out the door, though few people had to wait longer than 10 to 15 minutes. That's because the downtown post office had four windows open all day, while the Sundance Plaza office had three windows open for most of the day, Butler said.

All four windows were open for short spurts on Tuesday as well, and cars circled the parking lot looking for a vacant spot.

"They told us to mail early," said Steamboat resident Janet Johnson, lugging three lavishly decorated boxes to the front of the line. "Well, now all of us procrastinators are going to have to hope that our packages make it."

Although the post office workers are toiling especially hard this time of year, Butler called the stereotype of employees "going postal" a myth, noting his employees, though dealing with a great deal of stress, have performed exceptionally well.

Likewise, Butler and his employees praised the customers for their calm in the face of pressure.

"The people have been so patient. We really appreciate it," Myers said.

Monday may have been the last day for packages to reach points east of the Mississippi before Christmas, though express mail might still do the trick, Butler said.

The postal workers have seen packages in all shapes and sizes this year, up to a hefty limit of 70 pounds. But with all of the creative gift ideas people come up with every year, there are some choice items that will not be accepted by the postal service.

This Christmas, the post office will not allow people to send Viagra through the mail. It's flammable and will be rejected by the post office workers if they find out about it. Also, the post office recommends against sending baby chicks or geese. It's too cold for live animals, Butler said. He said live animals are usually mailed in the springtime.

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