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Post offices are part of their neighborhoods

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — The letter carrier used to bring cold milk every day to Doug White's home in Connecticut. He was like family for 20 years.

"My little kids would run up to the door — 'The mailman! The mailman!' " White said.

Those times are gone. And now White may lose his neighborhood post office at 5206 N Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights — a possibility for 1,000 U.S. Postal Service locations nationwide as mail volume plummets along with the economy.

The Government Accountability Office added the Postal Service to its list of high-risk government agencies and programs. The agency is reviewing locations to cut in urban areas with plans to transfer employees as offices are consolidated.

But the loss of a post office means zapping a social spot for those in smaller areas, such as St. Pete Beach residents frequenting the Pass-A-Grille Station.

White knows he can pay his bills online, but he likes to send off the payments himself.

"It's part of like a comfort zone for folks, a routine they've found over years that they can trust the Postal Service to handle their business," said Gary Sawtelle, a Postal Service spokesman.

It could use more customers like White. Mail volume dropped by 9 billion pieces in the 2008 fiscal year. It could be another 20 billion this year.

Thirteen offices in the Tampa Bay region made the list of possible closings. Officials will form a shorter list in coming months, and the earliest date for any changes is Sept. 30.

It's too early to determine the possibility of layoffs.

Two other post offices are more or less 2 miles away from the Seminole Heights location. But this building with a public bus stop maintains a steady line for a few clerks inside. Hummers, vans and Jeeps shuffle in an out of one row of parking spots.

Carmen Lopez is there in five minutes. She picks up letters and clothes sent from her two daughters, and drops off toys for her 5-year-old granddaughter living in Puerto Rico. She sent pencils, crayons and SpongeBob SquarePants notebooks for a new school year.

Another office means more gas, more time and probably fewer visits.

Inside, a post office box has been Darby White's for 12 years as a daily aid to his process serving company.

Another post office box holds up to four letters and checks from advertisers every day for the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. It has for 20 years.

"It's a shame to see it go, but I fully understand they're having to cut back just like everybody else," said Jeff Harmon, the association's president.

Consolidating postmarks in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties saved the Postal Service millions in 2007.

But it's $7 billion in the red this year. The agency doesn't get tax money. Its revenue comes from postage.

With fewer locations, Sawtelle expects more customers to use the Postal Service from their homes. Customers already can order supplies, print postage and arrange for package pickups. Thirty percent of customers send mail without stepping into an office.

Times researcher John Martin and information from The Washington Post contributed to this report. Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

What's next

Thirteen Tampa Bay locations are under review by the postal board for consolidation. A shorter list is expected in a few months, but no changes will come before late September. The five Hillsborough County locations under review are:

MacDill Air Force Base

8106 Condor St.

Tampa, FL 33608-9998

Port Tampa Station

6801 S West Shore Blvd.

Tampa, FL 33616-9998

Seminole Heights Station

5206 N Florida Ave.

Tampa, FL 33603-9998

Temple Terrace Branch

8633 N 56th St.

Tampa, FL 33617-7104

West Tampa Station

1802 N Howard Ave.

Tampa, FL 33607-9998

Post offices are part of their neighborhoods 08/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 12:43am]

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