ST. PETE BEACH
Hours passed in the summer afternoon in Pass-a-Grille, and just a few souls entered the shoebox-size post office in the heart of downtown.
It gets busier in the winter, but even then the Pass-a-Grille post office is a sleepy place.
Locals like it that way. Chances are, there won't be a line. And if you've got the family in tow, there are gum drops on the counter and dog biscuits behind it.
"It would be kind of crazy to think of this place without a post office," said Katie Eagan, 25, who has lived in the area since she was a child.
But that is exactly what people in Pass-a-Grille are contemplating. Faced with financial losses, the U.S. Postal Service is considering closing 13 locations in the area, including the satellite office at 103 Eighth Ave. in Pass-a-Grille and the larger St. Pete Beach branch at 250 Corey Ave.
If both were closed, residents would have to travel to Tierra Verde or Gulfport.
"I hope they don't do that, because it's part of the charm of this street," said Dody Turner, who owns Dody, a clothing and home furnishings boutique.
The post office is a local magnet, Turner said, and "how we keep in touch with all the people that live out here."
Gary Sawtelle, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said it will take 30 to 60 days to decide which branches will go.
The Pass-a-Grille office has 300 post office boxes that many locals, including those on Vina Del Mar, rely on. It also offers express mail delivery, money orders and other services.
It is a historic place that dates back to 1905, when, as legend has it, local resident George Lizotte persuaded the government to establish the first outpost on the beach because the area had 16 chickens, two hogs, two pigs and two humans that needed mail service.
It was moved to its current location in the 1940s, when Ripley's Believe it or Not deemed Eighth Avenue the smallest main street in America.
Today there are automobiles and the Internet, but there remain people who say they hardly ever venture north of the Don CeSar, happy to contain much of their existence to a 2-mile strip of asphalt, concrete and sand with its tiny downtown, handful of restaurants, and bars, shops and single delicatessen.
Capt. Alva Sholty, who has run the shuttle to Shell Key for 20 years out of the Merry Pier at the foot of Eighth Avenue, said he goes into the post office twice a day.
"It grounds you, and you don't normally get that in today's hustle-bustle," said Sholty, who doesn't live in Pass-a-Grille but spends most of his time there.
"I will sorely miss that post office if it closes."
Not everyone waxes nostalgic.
Albert Hughes, who has lived in Pass-a-Grille for 13 years, said the Corey Avenue branch would be a greater loss.
"This one here is more of a convenience than anything," said Hughes, 67, a Merry Pier regular.
He summed up the Gulfport alternative this way: "I'm supposed to go 20 miles for stamps now?"
Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2271.