Monday, August 22, 2011

Nostalgia Doesn’t Pay The Rent

Some folks in Clarksville were disappointed when the postal service didn’t immediately jump on the offer of a free site from the county. After the Clarksville post office closed on August 12th county executive Ken Ulman stepped in to offer the former Gateway School site rent free for at least two years in order to entice the postal to return. The former location closed when the landlord opted not to renew the lease.

Ironically, according to this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun, the reason the lease was not renewed was “uncertainty over the neighboring Gateway site development.”

In other words, the real reason had more to due with future development potential. The land that the former post office sat on is now more valuable vacant than with the postal service on a long term lease.

So why the lukewarm postal service response on the alternative free site from the county?

Simple economics. Although the land would be rent free the postal service would still need to construct a temporary facility and staff it.

Though people tend to feel a special nostalgia to their loco post office, that isn’t necessarily enough to support the enterprise. As Alexandra Petri recently quipped in this column in The Washington Post, “ask anyone about the chance that his local post office might be closing, and you're wafted back to the 1950s.”

While we may intrinsically understand that the postal service has been eclipsed by technology, some still cling to an idealized post office that has little resemblance to current situation

“The last time you went to a post office -- and you realize that this is anecdotal and you may be exaggerating slightly — you stood in a line for forty-two hours and died of neglect, and your grandmother claims the cookies arrived strangely dented.”

If the postal service is going to survive they need to drastically rethink their business model.

“Meanwhile, the Post Office is stuck. It is a wildly expensive service which taxpayers do not directly subsidize — and it’s about to run out of money. It currently is obligated to provide universal service — mail six days a week, across the United States. On every day that mail is delivered, someone rides down the Grand Canyon on a mule to give mail to the person at the bottom.”

The chances are that the mail that is riding on that mule six days a week is primarily junk mail. As Alexandra concludes “when you heard your post office was closing, the odds are that you didn't send an angry letter.”
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