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Century-old Pass-a-Grille post office closing in June

ST. PETE BEACH — Residents of Pass-a-Grille will soon lose a valued establishment, as the Eighth Avenue Post Office will close on June 17.

The abrupt notice came as a shock to the sleepy beach community, which will now have to wend farther into St. Pete Beach to mail a letter or buy a stamp.

The historic postal center has served the community since 1905, before Pinellas County seceded from Hillsborough and during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Since then, it has created an indelible bond with generation after generation of customers.

"Everyone picks up their mail there," said Nancy Shannon, a longtime Pass-a-Grille resident. "I've been living here for over 50 years, I came down as a bride-to-be from New York. Ever since then, I've bought my packages and stamps there. It is a core community place."

Economic times, however, are rough for the U.S. Postal Service. According to the USPS, mail volume has declined by 43.1 billion items nationally since 2006, which has caused a massive drop in revenue. The postal service's operational budget is financed by stamp and product revenue, not tax dollars.

As such, the drop in mailing activity has forced tough decisions to be made, including the elimination of smaller branches.

"The USPS has instituted 35 mail processing consolidations around the country over the past five years, cutting annual costs by about $100 million," said Gary Sawtelle, communications specialist for the Suncoast Division of the postal service.

"In the past three years employee compliment has been reduced by 101,000. Those actions are not enough. The agency had an $8.5 billion budget deficit last year. Without legislative action the postal service will reach its borrowing authority in October and not be able to meet its expenses."

This is not the first time that the Eighth Avenue Post Office has been on the cusp of closing its doors. In 2009, it was a candidate for removal, along with the St. Pete Beach office.

The local community, however, voiced its concern and the post office was spared, until now.

"We listened to our customers and understood that there was a need to supply service to the area," Sawtelle said.

Shannon still thinks that such a service is needed and hopes that the post office can be saved again.

"After 2009, we thought the issue had been laid to rest. We were lulled into thinking that everything was okay."

The 105-year-old building rests in Pass-a-Grille's Historic Eighth Avenue Business District. It can only handle a few patrons at a time, but is characterized by small, singular details. For instance, the post office boxes are contoured with an intricate design and a star is etched around the keyhole, with the letters A through J appearing clockwise.

These touches are the types of things that Shannon is going to miss.

"It is an institution," she said. "I would hate to see it go."

The USPS is sympathetic to people like Shannon, but it has to deal with a rigid bottom line.

"Nearly 35 percent of the postal service's retail revenue comes from locations such as Costco, Office Depot, grocery stores, drug stores and online," said Sawtelle.

Which means that cherished community locales, no matter how old or storied, are expendable.

Century-old Pass-a-Grille post office closing in June 05/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 1:52pm]
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