Friday, November 16, 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
Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

Football playoffs: Jefferson 34, Lakewood 23

ST. PETERSBURG — Jefferson continues to prove that seedings don't matter in Class 5A. A week after upsetting top seed Hardee, the No. 8Dragons took down No. 4 seed Lakewood 34-23 in the region semifinals.Niko Duffey scored two first-half rushin...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

Football playoffs: Bloomingdale 21, Palmetto 14

VALRICO — In the offseason, Bloomingdale coach Max Warner told his players the goal was to play on Thanksgiving weekend.That left a lot of perplexed looks from the Bulls."They didn't know what that meant," Warner said.Bloomingdale had neve...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

Football playoffs: Plant 39, Viera 18

VIERA — Once again, the Plant Panthers proved they're the kind of team that can take a little momentum … and run you over with it.That was the case in Friday night's Class 7A, Region 2 semifinal as the Panthers rallied from an 18-10 halft...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

Football playoffs: Seffner Christian 27, Carrollwood Day 16

DOVER – Isaiah Knowles connected with Christian Helms on a pair on 10-yard touchdown tosses as Seffner Christian defeated Carrollwood Day 27-16 on Friday, giving the Crusaders their first playoff win in school history. The win, a rematch o...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Football playoffs: Nature Coast 17, Baker County 16

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast, an easy winner most of its past 10 games, really never had the need to attempt a field goal this season. Nor did the Sharks need to throw much, despite quarterback Fabian "2 Fabe" Burnett possessing a talented arm.Bu...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Admiral Farragut 40, Cambridge Christian 14

ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut's Courtney Eubanks came out for his first home playoff game ready to play.Early in the first quarter, Eubanks had an interception on defense and followed that play with a touchdown on offense as the Blue Jacket...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Citra North Marion 40, Zephyrhills 21

ZEPHYRHILLS — Zephyrhills' perfect season is imperfect now that it is over. A 40-21 loss to Citra North Marion in Friday night's Class 5A region semifinal ended the Bulldogs' season at 11-1. They were ousted in the second round for a second str...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Jesuit 31, Immokalee 3

TAMPA — What a celebratory year it would be if Jesuit could win its second state championship in the golden anniversary season of its first.The Tigers are three wins away from making that happen.Jesuit moved to the next round Friday with a 31-3...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Clearwater Central Catholic 30, Tampa Catholic 3

CLEARWATER — A defense that strong can forgive a lot of sins. Coming off of a two-week break with an uncharacteristic streak of undisciplined play, Clearwater Central Catholic presented itself with more challenges in the early stages of Friday'...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Football playoffs: Armwood 65, Lake Weir 7

SEFFNER – E.J. Wilson scored four touchdowns and Aamaris Brown had an interception return for a touchdown to carry Armwood to a dominant 65-7 win against Lake Weir in the Class 6A region semifinals Friday.The 11-1 Hawks will travel to Ocala Van...
Updated: 1 hour ago