USPS customers adjust to new times

FAIRMONT – Getting a card or bill out in the mail in time has gotten a little more complex over the summer.

“I’ve been mailing letters thinking I was getting them in in time,” said Barb Goodrich of rural Fairmont. “… Normally I’m always running to the mailbox between 4 and 5 p.m.”

But in Fairmont, the pick-up time is now 2:45, meaning those late afternoon drop-offs won’t be in the delivery system or postmarked until the next day.

When potential closings and cuts to the post office system were announced earlier this year, one of the downsizing moves included transferring the distribution system that was in Mankato to Minneapolis, according to Pete Nowacki, a spokesperson for the postal service out of the Minneapolis area.

“In the past, all the zip codes that started with 560 or 561 went to Mankato,” Nowacki said. “That’s just about all of southwestern and south-central Minnesota. The initial cancel and sorting occurred, and now all of that occurs in Minneapolis. The collection times have moved up, because we still have the overnight delivery standard.”

The distribution move from Mankato to Minneapolis took effect June 1, but little was seen or heard about the switch.

“It did happen overnight,” Nowacki said. “One day, we were collecting there, the next we were collecting here. We hear about it from time to time, and it does impact how some people go about their business. But when we explain why we had to do this, they’re more understanding. … Sometimes people don’t notice the change until it directly affects them. But it does make a difference, and people need to be aware for those bills and cards that need to be on time.”

The reason people may have been slow to notice is the same reason the post office has needed to make these cuts in the first place.

“The two big things are there is not as much mail, so there is not as much need. And secondly is money. With less mail, there are less stamps purchased. We may be a federal entity, but we are funded with the sale of stamps, rental of post office boxes; we don’t go to Congress to get more money.”

The changes in postal carrier service seen in Fairmont and southern Minnesota are being seen all over the nation.

“There are changes all through the organization, nationwide,” Nowacki said. “There have been consolidated operations. What happened in Mankato also happened in Rochester, and we’re preparing for that in St. Cloud and Eau Claire. … Over the last several years, our volume has fallen significantly. Just five or six years ago, we would handle over 100 billion pieces of mail of year. Now that number is under 70 billion, because a lot of people have started paying their bills online; people put invitations to events and weddings on Facebook now instead of sending out formal invitations. It has made a big difference and we have to change, too.”