For a move long anticipated, the U.S. Postal Service's announcement that it will eliminate most Saturday mail delivery to homes and businesses, effective the week of Aug. 5, came as a jolt. The agency made the decision unilaterally, rankling both legislators and companies that have long relied on Saturday delivery, which dates to 1863.
Among those businesses most affected are magazine publishers, and MPA-The Association of Magazine Media was quick to respond to the Postal Service's announcement. “Like Congress, MPA was taken by surprise by today's announcement,” said Mary Berner, MPA president-CEO, on Feb. 6, the day of the Postal Service's announcement. “While we have actively participated in conversations around postal reform, and in particular five-day delivery, we did not expect the USPS would act unilaterally, without congressional approval, and we await Washington's reaction and more details. ... Despite the difficulties the schedule change would entail, MPA told Congress [in 2011] we were willing to make changes if the shift to five-day delivery and resultant cost savings for the Postal Service were part of a comprehensive package of long-term reforms that would ensure a viable postal system for the foreseeable future.”
American Business Media, which represents trade publishers, also stressed the need for more sweeping changes. “To put it simply, we believe cutting costs that reduce service to your customers should only be taken as part of the implementation of an overall plan for reducing costs,” said Jack Widener, ABM's postal counsel, in a statement. “Congress must take action on the other needed changes.”
If the Postal Service is willing to scrap a century-and-a-half-old tradition, it should also consider changes to another slice of Americana—the nearly ubiquitous small-town post office.
Consider the case of Mason County, Mich., a place I've visited often since the late 1960s. The county, which had a population of 28,705 as of the 2010 census, is home to seven post offices. Two are in the county seat of Ludington, an industrial center and shipping port on Lake Michigan, and another is in the county's only other sizable town, Scottville.
As for the other four, they're located in Custer (2010 pop. of 284), Fountain (193), Freesoil (144) and Walhalla (119). All four villages are less than 15 miles from a sizable town (with at least one post office), and it's likely most of their residents shifted the bulk of their shopping to these places long ago. Does it really make sense for a severely cash-strapped Postal Service—which lost $15.9 billion in its last fiscal year—to pay the overhead and labor costs to keep such post offices open?
It's safe to assume the shuttering of such legacies of a simpler time across the U.S., while a tough sell politically, would result in a lot more in savings than the $2 billion a year expected to be trimmed through the elimination of most Saturday delivery. And while I'd hate to see the loss of these community institutions and the much-needed jobs they provide, the continued survival of the Postal Service is clearly at stake.