Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Begin Your Letter

Sometimes “Big Government” in Washington D.C. is so far away as to be on another planet where issues we cannot appreciate are resolved in a manner we do not comprehend and instead of feeling part of something bigger than ourselves we feel abandoned.

For many months we read about the efforts of the United States Postal Service, USPS, to staunch the flow of red ink in their operating budget through a variety of economy measures. While my suggestion of Twofer Tuesday (get a piece of your mail delivered and also get a piece of your neighbor’s mail at no extra charge) never really caught on, a nationwide attempt to shrink the USPS footprint by closing post offices included ours in downtown Norwich.

An effort by local leaders to engage with and persuade postal officials to reconsider their closure decision may have been successful or perhaps the USPS concluded for reasons of their own that the downtown building was a brick and mortar version of The Ransom of Red Chief.

In any event, to the delight of its customers, the downtown post office will remain in operation and a pillar of one of the gateways to Norwich, though it’s a sometimes lonely outpost that’s both a part of and apart from a downtown that’s working to reinvent and reinvigorate itself.

But less than a fortnight ago, in Washington D.C., an idea was floated by Senator Elizabeth Warren that could help redefine the USPS and in some small measure help downtown Norwich take another step towards achieving critical mass. Senator Warren is proposing to remodel the functions of our USPS to more closely resemble the roles that post offices in other countries have in our lives.

All across Europe, millions of postal patrons do business with their post offices for a variety of products and services that go well beyond forever stamps and the mailing of letters to include using the post office as a check-cashing service and a bill payment center.

When I lived in Germany, I had a regular routine whereby I’d pay for our landline telephone as well as one or more of our catalog delivery services at the same post office window where I bought stamps. I was usually in line with many, like myself, who came to the post office more often for those services than to pick up or drop off mail.

It was another piece of the economic development puzzle and an anchor for small businesses, card and gift stores to coffee shops, who’d set themselves up and cast a net into the customer stream to fish out a few for themselves. I don’t think Senator Warren is saying this expansion of products and services will ‘save’ the USPS and its bottom line but let’s face it, it couldn’t hurt.

And the expansion of services and an increase of people in and out of that glorious hunk of neo-classical architecture would be another small boost for a downtown Norwich we all want to succeed. -bill kenny

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