Aripeka's small but beloved post office slated to close Sept. 13

After emptying his post office box, James Norfleet, 68, sifts through mail at the Aripeka post office on Monday. Many Aripeka residents don’t get delivery.
After emptying his post office box, James Norfleet, 68, sifts through mail at the Aripeka post office on Monday. Many Aripeka residents don’t get delivery.
Published Aug. 27, 2013

The U.S. Postal Service has lost more than $25 billion since 2007, so it's hard to imagine any of its honchos getting too worked up about closing the little post office in Aripeka — or that it will make much of a dent in the deep red bottom line.

But to the 300 or so folks who live in the coastal community that straddles Pasco and Hernando counties, this is distressing news. Unless somebody really important steps up to save it, the Aripeka post office will shut down on Sept. 13.

The Pasco side residents don't get home delivery, so the post office provides free boxes. That won't change, but now retrieving mail will mean a 7-mile drive to Hudson.

Those who live in Hernando are in the Spring Hill ZIP code, so they get delivery. Still, many of them rent boxes at the post office and depend on it for services.

The postal service blames the closure on the landlord, which if you know anything about Aripeka history, seems almost laughable.

Louise Geiger, 83, has been leasing the building for years at $600 a month. The contract has always been simple. One page. This year, she says, the postal service sent her a thick packet full of forms to sign. She said it would take a lawyer to figure them out and she was already looking at increased premiums for liability insurance.

"I just told them I wasn't signing it,'' she said.

The postal service then used all those free boxes to announce the closure. It cited "federally mandated language required in the lease.''

Geiger is the oldest resident of Aripeka who was born there. Her grandfather, James B. Kolb, took over as postmaster in 1921, when the government decided to end mail delivery that had begun in the late 1800s. Kolb served until his death in 1945 and his daughter, Lizzie Bell Jackson, took over until her retirement in 1971.

Geiger was born to Ellen and Henry Norfleet in a house next door to the post office. In 2008, she located the old wooden structure that had once served as the post office and paid several thousand dollars to buy and move it next to the present modern office.

"I had to save it,'' she said at the time. "For my grandfather. For my family.''

This doesn't sound like a woman unwilling to negotiate. Her supporters believe postal service officials are just using her rejection of the contract as an excuse to do something they have wanted to do for years — close a rural outpost that does little business.

Spokeswoman Enola Rice said the postal service is "seeking suitable alternate quarters in the immediate area for the Aripeka Post Office,'' which seems a bit unlikely. The post office, the Baptist church and the Norfleet family's old store are about the only nonresidential structures in the community.

Julie Wert, 64, retired to Aripeka after 30 years with the postal service, including as a letter carrier out of the Hudson office. She can't get home delivery because she lives more than a half-mile from the last rural carrier's stop in the 34667 ZIP code.

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She said the Hudson office did a cost analysis recently on 189 deliveries to mailboxes along the road in Aripeka — $12,000 a year.

"I guess that's too much for them,'' she said. "I understand cost cutting, but shutting down a post office and forcing people to drive so far for their mail is contributing to the downfall of the postal system.''

She also believes the postal service could wave its wand and make all of Aripeka one ZIP code with home delivery. Spokeswoman Rice did not respond to that question, submitted by email.

Alta Trufant, 77, has lived in Aripeka 26 years. She lives in Hernando and gets delivery, but she and husband Ken have kept their post office box.

"It's more than a post office to us,'' she said, echoing the sentiments of residents who stopped on Monday to check for mail. "It's the heart of our community.''

About three years ago, Trufant's pet cockatiel, Ramsey, flew from his cage. She put up a note on the bulletin board at the post office and within days had him back. The board heralds community pot luck dinners and other special events, but this week it's full of notes begging to "save our post office,'' complete with addresses of the congressional delegation.

Trufant recalls visiting the Elfers post office near New Port Richey as a girl. Residents scrolled down lists of names, searching for news about soldiers fighting in World War II.

"Everyone knew everyone,'' she said. "Much like today in Aripeka.''