The people in Arcola have long regarded their little post office as the heart of the town.
With no coffee shop, convenience store or other place for people to linger and chat, the post office lobby, which is smaller than some McDonald’s restrooms, has long been a gathering spot for people in the community.
That’s why it was so devastating when a fire in the 100-plus-year-old building just before Christmas 2009 shut down the office for nearly a year. People had to drive nine miles to Fort Wayne to buy stamps and mail or pick up packages. It was hard on some people in the community, especially the elderly and people who don’t drive.
So the locals, fearing the office would disappear forever, jumped in and scrubbed and painted the post office in hopes that once the fire-damaged building got a new roof and was secure, the postal gods would recognize their works and reopen the office.
Whether the locals’ strange devotion to a government agency did the trick, or postal officials realized that Arcola was an outpost that needed an office, the Arcola branch was spared during a time when other branches around the country were closing.
But times are changing.
Last week, residents of Arcola received a letter from the U.S. Postal Service. It included a survey asking residents to choose from one of four new arrangements.
One choice is to reduce the post office’s hours to four a day. If that is the choice of the public, there was some indication the residents would have some say on what those hours would be.
Other options included a retail and delivery service provided through a retail carrier; have a local business take over the operation, accepting flat-rate packages and selling stamps; or to close the post office altogether.
One can be sure that people aren’t going to choose to close the town’s sole gathering spot other than a tavern, and there really isn’t a business in town that lends itself to providing postal services. The Postal Service itself says the post office will remain, unless more than 60 percent of the public votes for some other preference.
Not everyone is happy, but it appears there is no choice.
Bob Tippmann, who owns the building where the post office is located, says times just aren’t going to be the same in Arcola.
“Change is hard,” Tippmann said, especially when it involves what is just about the only constant in Arcola.
He wonders how a four-hour schedule would work out. As it stands, he said, there are three rush hours at the post office now – in the morning, around noon and after work.
In an email, one resident, Todd Lehman, expressed his concern. He noted that the Postal Service will hold a meeting at noon Nov. 7 at the Arcola Fire Department to answer questions and ask what hours the post office should be open, but most people will be at work at noon.
“The post office is a place to get news in the town of upcoming events for the volunteer fire department, tractor pull, church dinners, school info, etc.,” Lehman wrote.
“How many post offices have you seen that also give out suckers to the children in the neighborhood when they come in?” he asked. “This has happened for years. It may not be post office policy, but those are the kind of things that keep a small town together.”
The results of the community’s vote will be made known during the November meeting, but a final decision won’t be announced until later.