You may have heard that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is suffering from some serious debt. They are projected to rack up a deficit of over $18 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) next year alone. So, they are trying to cut costs any way they can: considering ending Saturday mail delivery, not replacing thousands of retiring postal workers, asking Congress to drop their mandate to pre-fund billions in retiree health benefits, terminating building leases, and selling their post office buildings or “relocating” their services to a new building.
And unfortunately for people in impacted communities, they’re not always forthcoming about their plans, so it’s critical for the public to get involved, know their rights, and be persistent. If the USPS decides to sell or relocate a historic post office in your town, here are ten steps you can take to protect it.
Find out if your post office is threatened.
USPS Properties for Sale is the official list of post offices being sold,
but watch for other signs like mailed surveys about local postal
services or posted legal notices about public meetings. You can also
ask your local postmaster for information on the building’s status.
Know your rights.
USPS regulations and U.S. Code are very clear about the procedures for
relocating, discontinuing, or suspending service at a post office, and what
role the public can play in making those decisions. The more you know, the
more effective you can be. Check out the National Association of
Postmasters of the United States (NAPUS) and its Post Office Red Book for
Don’t wait to get involved.
Residents and postal customers need to speak up as early as possible to
make themselves heard. Ask your postmaster, city manager, alderman, or
other elected officials if they’re aware of any plans to close or relocate your
post office. If USPS has released a proposal for closure or relocation of your
post office, the public has 60 days to comment on that proposal and how it
Bring friends to the party.
Many groups in your community will likely be interested in preserving your post
office. Reach out to business owners or business groups, the chamber of
commerce, your preservation commission, fraternal organizations, historical
societies, church groups, your Main Street organization, city officials and staff,
and local schools to grow your strength in numbers.
Use the media.
Keep local outlets apprised of
any activity around your post
office, whether it’s the distribution
of a questionnaire, a public
meeting hosted by USPS, a
planning meeting of local
advocates, a notice from USPS
about a proposal or a decision, or
even a rally that you stage to
protest USPS’ actions.
USPS usually convenes at least
one public meeting to gather
public input on a proposed
closure or relocation, and it is
absolutely critical to have a good
turnout at that meeting from post
office customers, city officials,
community leaders, and
Become a Consulting Party.
If your post office is in a historic building, the National Historic Preservation Act
requires the USPS to consult with interested parties. Nonprofit organizations or
members of the public with a “demonstrated interest” can take part by composing a
formal letter to the agency’s Federal Preservation Officer. Make sure to emphasize
why you or your group is interested, and copy your State Historic Preservation
Your state and federal senators and representatives can be some of
your best allies. Call, send a letter, or—best of all—schedule a
meeting. Bring materials that includes a brief summary of the
situation, correspondence from USPS, formal responses from city
officials or local advocates, and press highlights. Then, ask them to
support you with a letter opposing the USPS’ proposed action.
Appeal the decision.
Even if you rally the troops and take all the right steps, it’s still
possible that USPS will still decide to sell or relocate your local post
office. But that’s not the end of the road! You can—and should—
appeal that decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).
Help find a new use.
Even if your post office is ultimately listed for sale, it’s still an important part
of your town. Ensure that the building goes into responsible hands and
continues to serve your community by:
• identifying possible public and private owners and sending them
information about the property
• researching and sharing suggestions for compatible new uses that will
preserve the most important features and spaces of the building
• locating nonprofit groups in your city or state that are qualified to hold an
easement or covenant on the building
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s
historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same
in their own communities.
For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org.
Photos courtesy: Slides 1, 2, 4, 8, 10: National
Trust for Historic Preservation; Slides 5 & 7:
Daniel Arauz/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0; Slide 6: Rick
Bonetti/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0.