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At campus mail rooms, packages are taking over

University of Tampa students, from left, Zachary Plewa, Wesley Paulsen, Sierra Stephens, Bryan Tarricone and Ciara Roseberry wait in line to pick up packages at the school post office on Wednesday. More students have been turning to online shopping for textbooks and dorm essentials.
University of Tampa students, from left, Zachary Plewa, Wesley Paulsen, Sierra Stephens, Bryan Tarricone and Ciara Roseberry wait in line to pick up packages at the school post office on Wednesday. More students have been turning to online shopping for textbooks and dorm essentials.
Published Sep. 6, 2013

TAMPA

At 1 p.m. on a recent weekday, a line of students stretched out the door of a building at the University of Tampa. • No, they weren't queuing up for free food or a back-to-school event. They were waiting for something much more important: mail. • At a time when traditional post offices are struggling financially, mail rooms on many college campuses are busier than ever. But it's not letters from home these college students are eager to retrieve. They've got texts and emails for that. • It's the fruits of their online shopping labors.

More than 13,000 packages filtered through the UT mail room during the past three weeks, said UT post office director Kathy Fryer.

On Wednesday morning, packages lined the mail room corridors and an entire wall was stacked from floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes. With a large number of students hailing from the Northeast, some of the packages were items shipped from home or dorm room linens. But many contained textbooks ordered online, indicated by the logos of Amazon.com and Chegg.com, an online textbook retailer, Fryer said.

There's other stuff, too. Tubes containing posters, a few mini fridges, even a guitar in a case duct-taped shut.

Fryer has also seen cases of energy drinks, boxes of toilet paper and almost an entire car, piece by piece.

"There's one student who gets three to four packages a day," Fryer said. "I think he has a shopping addiction."

It's a similar situation at the University of South Florida, said Ana Hernandez, the dean of housing and residential education.

"Students are receiving fewer and fewer letters that would fit in their mailboxes and more packages," Hernandez said. "Definitely, Amazon and eBay, those things have increased the number of packages received in the mail room."

Students who live on campus at both schools are assigned a small, personal mailbox, but many students don't check them very often, both schools said.

"We do need mailboxes, but students have shown the trend is changing from say 20 years ago when a student went rushing to their mailbox each day to see communication from the outside world," Hernandez said.

"The whole concept of students checking their mailboxes on a daily basis seems to be a thing of the past," Hernandez said. "We are looking at options to text them notifications and different things we can do to let them know they've received mail."

Students at both schools are already alerted by email when a package arrives.

Roshard Williams, a 19-year-old political science major at USF, orders items online regularly. Most often it's clothing from retailers such as J.Crew and Topman, he said.

"It's a lot more convenient than going to the mall because I can log on and just pick out what I want online," he said. "Plus, I don't have a car, so it's a lot easier way to shop."

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On a recent day at UT, Bridgette McGoorty, 19, picked up four packages containing books she ordered online and a new phone her dad sent.

As for letters from home, she doesn't recall ever getting any.

"We usually talk through texts," she said.

Neither school has made any major upgrades to deal with the growing number of packages, but Fryer said each year she finds herself hiring a few more part-time students to help.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401.

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