Thursday, September 20, 2018
News Roundup

What’s a town without a post office? Tiny Aripeka might be there again soon

ARIPEKA

One day last week, as she does every three or four days, Diana Hohimer left her double-wide trailer home at the back of Aripeka’s RV park to make the walk, a little less than a mile, to the post office. She passed the home of a woman, now in her 30s, who went to elementary school with Hohimer’s son. She pointed out the old house where her first husband lived nearly 40 years ago.

"Can’t believe it hasn’t disintegrated," she said.

Nothing much has changed in the 32 years she’s lived in Aripeka, said Hohimer, 56. The coastal town straddling the Pasco-Hernando county line is home to about 300 people. They still fish for dinner from the bridge, still congregate at the old store, still — for now — walk to the post office for their mail.

But word is spreading that this tiny town’s tiny post office may close next month, with the building’s owner fed up with the U.S. Postal Service and unlikely to renew its lease. The Postal Service said last week it has no plans to close.

A closure could force residents, many of whom don’t get home delivery, to drive miles out of their way to get mail. And in a small town with few gathering places, shuttering the post office could feel like a big change.

• • •

The situation in Aripeka nearly mirrors that of five years ago, when the post office closed for about two months.

In 2013, the building’s previous owner said the Postal Service surprised her with a long, cumbersome lease proposal after years of single-page agreements. When she declined to sign it, they announced the closure.

The Pasco County side of Aripeka doesn’t get home mail delivery, and though the Hernando side is eligible for it, many residents there still depend on their free post office boxes. For two months after it closed, residents made the 15-mile round trip to the post office in Hudson.

Eventually, Carl Norfleet bought the property and made a deal with the Postal Service. A lifelong Aripekan with deep roots in the community — the store by the bridge is named for his family — Norfleet said he wanted to give back to his town.

But in the five years since, he said, he’s butted heads with Postal Service officials. First, it was a delay in reopening the office after a flood a few years ago, and more recently over rent and terms of the lease.

"It got a little nasty," Norfleet said, "and I just no longer trust the post office."

Emails that Norfleet provided to the Tampa Bay Times show him corresponding with a Postal Service employee, who has a usps.gov email address and identifies himself as a contractor specializing in real estate.

In the emails, Norfleet tells the contractor the Postal Service can buy his building outright for $50,000, but he said he no longer has interest in working with them.

Debra J. Fetterly, the Postal Service spokeswoman for the Suncoast District offered this on Tuesday: "The Postal Service continues to work closely with the lessor to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties."

• • •

Hohimer was checking her mail one day in late July when she overheard the postmaster tell another resident the post office might close. She talked to Norfleet, a friend, who confirmed the rumor. She wondered what would happen next, especially for her neighbors who are elderly, disabled or without reliable transportation.

She struck up conversations with neighbors about the post office closing. Just last week, she said, she talked to 20 or 25 people, none of whom knew they may have to go elsewhere for their mail.

She hung a petition on the bulletin board outside the post office in an effort to save it.

If it won’t keep the post office, Norfleet said the Postal Service should institute home delivery for the whole town. And if someone figures out a way to keep the post office, he said, that’s great — but he doesn’t want to be involved.

"I would be very happy to see that the post office stays here for the people of Aripeka," he said. "But I’m not going to be the guy to help it there."

• • •

The Aripeka post office sits next door to its predecessor, an older and even smaller wooden structure that once housed the mail. Its doors are locked, but a look through the window reveals little besides a scale and a half-dozen P.O. boxes. A sign in front marks it as the "Aripeka Historic District" and claims that Babe Ruth visited the village decades ago.

The working post office is slightly larger than its forebearer, with a mail slot, an office hours sign and a few hundred narrow boxes lining the walls in neat rows. Hohimer slid her key into Box 189 and retrieved a couple of bent envelopes.

"Mostly bills," she said. "I didn’t win the lottery or anything."

On her route to the post office and back home, she chatted with other residents about the post office’s possible demise. They summarized their feelings in few words.

"Bad, sad, mad," offered Thomas Romer, who said he’d lived in Aripeka on and off for years, as he sat on the post office’s steps. He paused. "Pissed."

She checked the petition she’d pinned outside — "Save the Aripeka, Florida Post Office!" — then walked over to the store to check the one she’d put up there.

Only nine signatures between the two.

She knew some people didn’t want to put their names on a petition, but she’d only tacked them on the cluttered bulletin boards a few days earlier. She figured more people would sign. She hoped they just needed more time.

Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.

RELATED:Aripeka residents thankful for reopening of post office

 
Comments
Afternoon thunderstorms to provide break from heat across Tampa Bay

Afternoon thunderstorms to provide break from heat across Tampa Bay

Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to drench Tampa Bay by Thursday afternoon, bringing a slight reprieve from temperatures that will feel like they're near 100. Hot afternoons will remain intact throughout the weekend with late-day show...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
USF up to No. 2 in AAC power rankings

USF up to No. 2 in AAC power rankings

Three schools remain unbeaten, led by UCF, which moved up to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. USF beat a Power Five opponent for the second week in a row and Cincinnati is off to its best start since 2012. The biggest jump this week comes from Te...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Rays keep rolling in playoff chase; how the Mississippi River is affecting Red Tide; behind the scenes at Howl-O-Scream

The Daystarter: Rays keep rolling in playoff chase; how the Mississippi River is affecting Red Tide; behind the scenes at Howl-O-Scream

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Start the day with a 30 percent chance of isolated showers and thunderstorms, which will grow to 50 percent in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The high will ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

By SUHAUNA HUSSAINTimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — One day after a string of fiery natural-gas explosions rocked three Massachusetts towns,St. Petersburg sent out a notice to residents warning them that Florida Gas Transmission will be testing its...
Published: 09/20/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Let’s see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18
Another reason Florida’s Red Tide is so bad this year: Pollution from the Mississippi River

Another reason Florida’s Red Tide is so bad this year: Pollution from the Mississippi River

The Red Tide algae bloom now tossing tons of dead fish on Pinellas County’s beaches has been fueled for months by many things — runoff from over-fertilized lawns, leaking septic tanks and sewage lines, even dust from the Sahara Desert.Now add anoth...
Published: 09/20/18
Brooksville approves city budget with lower tax rate

Brooksville approves city budget with lower tax rate

BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council has approved its 2018-19 budget with a tax rate 11 percent below this year's rate, thanks mainly to the city's decision to close the Brooksville Police Department and contract with Hernando County She...
Published: 09/20/18
Are these guys threatening to turn AL wild card into a race? Just ask the Rays

Are these guys threatening to turn AL wild card into a race? Just ask the Rays

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays still have got a long way to go and a short time to get there if they're gonna do what they say can't be done.If the Smokey and the Bandit paraphrase doesn't work for you, then let's try another theatrical reference....
Updated: 2 hours ago
After fleeing Hurricane Florence, East Carolina trying to keep routine in Orlando before USF game

After fleeing Hurricane Florence, East Carolina trying to keep routine in Orlando before USF game

There is nothing normal about the situation East Carolina's football team finds itself in after Hurricane Florence.The Pirates' last scheduled game (against Virginia Tech) was canceled. After evacuating campus a week ago, they remain sequestered in o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Too many homeowners forced to tap home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses

Too many homeowners forced to tap home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses

Tapping home equity to pay for day-to-day expenses like groceries and utilities is a recipe for financial peril. It can work for a while, especially if home prices are rising. Eventually the spigot runs dry, bills pile up and your home can be lost to...
Updated: 2 hours ago