Steamboat Springs On Thursday morning, Rocco Stefano stepped into the quaint building that houses the Phippsburg Post Office, just like he does every weekday morning.
And just like every other day, he deftly slid a piece of chocolate across the counter to a smiling postmaster officer-in-charge named Mariea Connor, better known as “CC.”
“He has to sweeten me up,” Connor said as she retrieved Stefano’s mail. She put the chocolate into her candy bowl and traded it out for two bon-bons, which she snuck back over the county to Stefano.
Stefano, like many other seniors in the small, unincorporated town of Phippsburg, walks to the post office every day for a newspaper and mail. They nod their heads and say “Good morning,” and talk about everything from the weather to their grandchildren to summer events.
For some, it’s their only chance to get out of the house; for others, their only chance to interact within the small community.
But those days may be numbered.
The U.S. Postal Service has begun the process of shutting down the Phippsburg Post Office. A letter dated May 7 and left in each of the 144 assigned boxes makes the intent clear.
“The office is being studied for possible closing or consolidation for the following reasons: declining workload, close proximity to other offices and alternative services can be provided by other means,” the letter read.
Stefano is usually an upbeat jokester, but he turned somber at the mention of the possible closure.
Now in his late 80s, he wouldn’t be able to drive the 3.6 miles to Oak Creek to get his mail there.
“It would be terrible,” he said. “Really bad. I can’t drive.”
He isn’t the only resident who considers the post office an irreplaceable community center and necessary service.
Phippsburg resident Maynard Short wrote a letter in response to the Postal Service’s proposal.
“This is a retirement community, not a city suburb,” Short wrote. “My neighbors and I are not daily traveling to a job. We need the post office close enough so we can gain access to our mail on a daily basis.”
A long process
The letter sent out to box holders in Phippsburg outlines a specific timeline for any potential actions.
It included a survey about postal use that residents were asked to send back during the 60-day comment review period. The Postal Service also will host a public meeting in Phippsburg on the matter within four to six weeks.
At the end of the 60-day period, the Postal Service will post a final decision on the matter. Residents will then have 30 days to appeal the decision, and the Postal Service then has four months to render another decision.
Postal Service Western regional spokesman Al DeSarro said the closure process can take an average of nine months, and that Phippsburg is not alone in its predicament: There are almost 2,000 offices nationwide being studied for possible closure.
“This is going on all over the country in every state,” DeSarro said. “There are at least 10 offices in Colorado.
“The post offices we’re looking at primarily are ones with limited workload and usually less than two hours of work a day,” he said. “There’s other factors such as a small number of transactions and the availability of other mailing services.”
The Postal Service, he said, is facing an $8.5 billion deficit for the current fiscal year. Because the post office is not tax supported and has to operate like a business, DeSarro said the organization has to face the unfortunate reality of being forced to cut costs.
“We’ve downsized our staff by 100,000 employees without any layoffs,” he said. “We’re consolidating mail routes and using more automation. But you can’t tweeze the turnip any more and get more out than what we’re doing.”
He said the reaction of the Phippsburg residents to the notice — sentimental and defensive of their community post office — is similar to what he’s seen across the region when these notices go out.
But, he said, the post office still has billions in cuts on the table and times have changed.
“People can now get a lot of postal services from the internet site,” he said. “You can have packages picked up at home and at your business. Those are options. I know that’s not what people want in terms of having the traditional post office, but it’s changed, just like a lot of other things we’ve had in our lifetimes.”
DeSarro said he doesn’t know how much the Postal Service would save by closing the Phippsburg Post Office, but that figure likely would be announced at the public meeting.
A dependable place to go
Louise Iacovetto is a longtime Phippsburg resident who knows firsthand the role the post office plays in the community.
Iacovetto’s husband, Ray, was appointed postmaster in 1949, when the office still was located several buildings down on Colorado Highway 131.
It moved to its current location when the Iacovettos built the new structure in 1970.
In 1981, Louise took over for her husband as postmaster. Now, there is no appointed postmaster. Connor’s job title is “officer-in-charge.”
Louise retired in 1989 and remains one of the local senior citizens who make the daily trip to their post office box.
“The post office is important to the town because it’s the blood of life, particularly for the senior citizens,” Iacovetto said. “There’s several of us, including me, who walk in for mail each morning and say ‘hello’ to our neighbors. If we didn’t have a post office, it would just further our being couch potatoes and we wouldn’t get out and do what socializing we do.”
She and several other residents plan to do everything they can to fight the possible closure.
“It’s not an obligation of the post office to provide a social life, I know that,” she said. “But we are senior citizens, and with the long winters and the driving conditions, it’s an extreme hardship to not have the post office.”
Back in the post office Thursday morning, Connor was sorting mail. The P.O. boxes aren’t in perfect order, but Connor knows where each of them are by heart.
A woman comes in to donate a few plastic bags for Connor to wrap letters in when the weather is bad.
“We all help each other,” Connor said. “We all have our eyes on each other.”
The next customer was Sharon Ebaugh, a 49-year resident of Phippsburg who comes to the office six days a week to get her mail.
Ebaugh says the post office has been part of the community since its inception as a railroad town in 1908.
“This has been a place we can always depend on,” she said.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com