PALM HARBOR — Just as he's done countless times before, on Thursday Andrew Rygiel took a moment away from his job to buy some stamps at the contract post office in the strip center where his business is located.
Rygiel, manager of Colorful Coatings, a paint retailer at Lake St. George Plaza on Tampa Road, has come to rely on Char's Hallmark Cards and Gifts, not only for its stamps and friendly service, "but also how they've given us lots of foot traffic into our business, too,'' Rygiel said.
But no more. At the end of the day Friday, Mike and Sandra Everall, owners of Char's Hallmark, will close the door of their business for good.
The U.S. Postal Service is terminating its relationship with Char's, which has been a mainstay at the shopping center for about 20 years.
However, more than a convenient place to buy stamps will be lost when the business closes.
The Everalls, originally from Manchester, England, have been in the United States for 20 years under an investor's visa, which allows nationals of another country to live here as long as they operate a successful business that employs U.S. citizens.
"It's a business visa based on a reciprocal trade agreement between the USA and the UK,'' said Mike Everall, 70. "As long as I run a successful enterprise, I can stay, but now with the closing of the post office, I don't have enough business to keep my two employees, and therefore, we cannot stay under the visa."
It was the postal business, not the gift shop that was the financial foundation of the store. With only the gift shop, "the money we take in from that is not enough to sustain us,'' said Everall.
"We'll go back to England, but you know, we've been ex-patriots for so many years, we don't know yet what we will do,'' he said.
On Jan. 23, the Everalls were notified by letter from a U.S. Postal Service office in Colorado that their relationship with the USPS as a contract postal unit, commonly called a CPU, was ending. The reason was "a result of an agreement with the American Postal Workers Union,'' the letter stated.
Within the USPS' Suncoast district, which includes the Tampa Bay area, there are 136 CPUs, defined as entities that operate in an already established business and offer all the postal services found in a regular post office.
The only other CPU scheduled to close within the district is in Lake Buena Vista, said Enola Rice, spokesperson for the USPS based in Tampa.
Everall had been hearing rumors about the potential closure for several months, but "we thought it could be worked out,'' he said.
"We have been hitting about $1 million in revenue for the (USPS) year after year. So how could they shut us down?'' Everall said. The answer goes back to May 2011, when the USPS and the American Postal Workers Union reached a collective bargaining agreement that would close approximately 20 CPUs around the country.
"This results in a savings of $3 billion for the USPS," Rice said. "The contract (with the union) offers more flexibility in managing our workforce and employee benefits.''
Although she is sorry for the Everalls' personal plight, Rice stressed that "the USPS did not establish their business, and therefore is simply closing the contracted postal unit.
"This is a result of the fact that we have a dire financial situation,'' Rice said. "For example, since 2006, (volume of) first class mail has declined 25 percent. Because of instant communication available on the Internet and on places like Twitter, the U.S. Postal Service is losing money every day.''
One of the longtime customers of Char's, Buddy Resnik, owner of Resnik Music Group, questions the decision to close the unit. Resnik has been using Char's daily for years to send off 30 pieces of mail at a time, including legal contracts to clients and compact discs to record labels.
"Really, I think the decision is an utter disgrace for the community,'' he said. "Does this make sense, since they were generating money for the (USPS)?''
Evidently, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, questions the decision too.
On Feb. 17, after being contacted by the Everalls, Bilirakis sent a letter to Patrick R. Donahoe, U.S. postmaster general.
In the letter, Bilirakis noted the profitability of CPUs and the recent financial struggles of the USPS. "... the USPS is hardly in the position to terminate contracts that generate such high levels of revenue,'' the letter stated.
But nothing changed.
In an email to the Times on Friday, Bilirakis voiced his concern over the final decision to close the Everalls' CPU.
"Closing popular, profitable units such as this one will only accelerate the fiscal crisis of the USPS and negatively impact the communities they serve," he wrote.
Meanwhile, the two nearby post offices, the Oldsmar Post Office at 3905 Tampa Road and the Palm Harbor Post Office at 495 Alt. U.S. 19, are preparing to see more customers.
Mike Jenkins, the postmaster at the Palm Harbor Post Office, says he has seen the Everalls' CPU as a busy place.
"Mike and I have worked together for years and are good friends,'' Jenkins said. "But for the post office, we have to move on and try to get on without them. It is what it is, and it is extremely unfortunate.''
When closing time comes at the end of the week, Everall plans to stick one last note on the door. "We want to send a goodwill message and wish all our loyal customers all the very best,'' he said.
"And then, we will go to our house, where I've hoarded for years an extremely expensive bottle of wine — very, very expensive. We'll break it open, and Sandra and I will surely toast each other for all the best and for the future.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.