Post office closings will hit smallest towns the hardest
BY DAVID AVERILL Editor, Editorial Pages
Sunday, July 31, 2011
7/31/11 at 3:44 AM
The U.S. Postal Service last week released a list of 3,653 post offices - 100 of them in Oklahoma - that it is considering closing, beginning sometime next year.
The Postal Service is in the worst financial crisis in its history. Mail volume declined 3.5 percent last year as Americans continued to shift their communications to e-mail and text messaging, resulting in a record net loss of $8.5 billion.
Post office closures are just one of several cost-cutting measures the USPS is eyeing; another is doing away with Saturday deliveries.
Post offices facing the possible ax typically are those that do about two hours work and less than $50 in business a day. Many - but not all - are within five miles of another office.
Whichever post offices eventually are affected, each closure will inconvenience some customers. For many of those, the inconvenience might be nothing more than driving an extra five miles to the nearest post office.
But think what the loss of their local post office will mean to those who live in a remote place like Kenton, in the extreme western tip of Oklahoma's Panhandle.
Kenton is an unincorporated community with 17 residents, according to 2010 census figures, 19 according to Vicki Roberts, who with her husband Monty Joe runs the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast there. Kenton, which lies in the Cimarron River valley, is just south of Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. It is so far west that it observes Rocky Mountain time.
There are three full-time businesses in Kenton besides the post office - two bed-and-breakfasts and a guest ranch. A new addition is a steak house that operates on Friday and Saturday nights.
Roberts picks up her mail each day from a box at the post office, even though there is a rural mail delivery route that originates out of Elkhart, Kan. The next nearest post office to Kenton is 38 miles away, in Boise City. If Kenton's post office closes and gasoline stays at almost $4 a gallon, she says, she won't be able to afford a round-trip drive of nearly 80 miles every day to pick up her mail in Boise City.
Convenience is not one of the joys of life in Kenton. How remote is it? The nearest school is also in Boise City, which means at least two hours a day on the school bus for the children who live in and around Kenton in the heart of cattle-ranching country.
Roberts also drives to Boise City to shop for groceries.
The closest Wal-Mart and McDonald's are 100 miles away, in Guymon.
The place to go for lumber, large appliances and medical specialists is Amarillo, Texas, 160 miles away.
Kenton does have landline telephone service and DSL Internet access, but only two companies offer reliable cell phone service, Roberts says. In fact, her B&B, a rustic 1910 ranch house on a working cattle ranch, has Wi-Fi.
USPS spokeswoman Dionne Montague says that the post office closings will not affect existing mail delivery methods, so apparently the rural-route in the area will continue.
Apart from that the Postal Service is promoting what it calls the "Village Post Office," in which a local merchant such as a pharmacist or grocer would sell stamps, flat-rate packaging and other products.
That might be a problem in Kenton, because the only retail outlet, the Mercantile, or "The Merc," closed around Christmastime last year.
The Merc was an eclectic general store housed in a picturesque old building on the main street, where customers could get a burger or bowl of chili and where they might find, next to one another on a shelf, a can of Right Guard spray, canned green beans and an old wooden box filled with what were purported to be dinosaur eggs.
(There might be something to the dinosaur egg story. Since 1935 scientists exploring the Jurassic- and Triassic-era rocks at the nearby Black Mesa have mined 18 tons of dinosaur bones from five species, including brontosaurus. And visitors can clearly see a line of allosaurus footprints along Carrizo Creek just north of the mesa.)
Losing their local post office will be just another inconvenience for those who live in and around Kenton - and dozens of other small and remote communities - and life will go on. "We wanted to get away from the big city and we sure did," Roberts says with a chuckle.
The Postal Service obviously faces drastic steps to deal with its shrinking business and growing deficits. But delivering the mail is one of the few responsibilities specifically given Congress by the U.S. Constitution. You might make a good case that the constitutional mandate is even more important in remote places, like Kenton, where residents don't enjoy all the communications alternatives available to those in the urban areas. Maybe those are the places that should keep their dinky, inefficient post offices that do only a few dollars of business a day.
David Averill, 918-581-8333
Operators of the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast in Kenton, Vicki and Monty Joe Roberts, would be affected by a post office closing. Courtesy