ARIPEKA — Carl Norfleet couldn't stand to see his neighbors hurting over the closing of their post office in the tightly knit coastal community where he grew up.
Aripeka has been good to him, he said, and on Friday Norfleet seized the chance to give back by buying the post office property with the hope of enticing the U.S. Postal Service to open it up again.
The Postal Service closed the post office on Sept. 13, citing a lease dispute with the property's owner, Louise Geiger, 83, the oldest resident of Aripeka who was born there and Norfleet's cousin. The Postal Service said she objected to federally mandated language in the lease, while Geiger told the Times she was facing increased insurance costs.
Geiger sent a notice of eviction, according to the Postal Service, and the agency pulled out of Aripeka, where residents on the Pasco side don't receive home mail delivery. Instead, they got their mail from free boxes at the Aripeka branch making it the hub of community engagement for decades.
But with the closing, residents' boxes were moved 7 miles down U.S. 19 to the Hudson branch, a difficult trek for many of Aripeka's mostly elderly population of around 300.
That led to a contentious meeting last week in the community center where more than 100 people packed the hall to decry the closure. Dozens of residents angrily protested the dangers of driving on U.S. 19. Worse, the crowd howled, what about the many seniors who cannot drive and relied on their boxes in town to get their medicine?
Norfleet, 71, also came to the meeting and announced his plan to buy the property from Geiger. He would be willing to sign a lease with the Postal Service in order to keep it open. He felt the love when the room erupted in applause.
His reason: paying the community back for its generosity to him.
Norfleet said he made his money for years running Aripeka's only general store, which was always a big success thanks to the locals. Norfleet is retired now but hasn't forgotten his customers.
"It's their money, so it's the least I can do," he said last week.
He is willing to begin negotiations with the post office for a new lease, which Postal Service officials said could be a possibility.
"We are happy to hear that a potential new owner would like to negotiate a contract to keep the Post Office in Aripeka," Postal Service spokeswoman Enola Rice wrote in an email. "When the purchase of the Post Office is complete, we will go through the official process as quickly as possible to negotiate a new contract."
Buying the building is not a money-making endeavor, Norfleet said, but he said he could use an extra $50 a month in rent to cover higher insurance premiums. But that's not a deal breaker for him. The main goal is to get the post office open again.
"It's really the heart of our community," he said.