For rural Va. town, post office delivers more than mail

As the U.S. Postal Service considers shutting hundreds of post offices, the people of tiny Star Tannery, Va., hope theirs is not on the list.
Locator map of Star Tannery, Virginia
Laris Karklis/The Washington Post
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 12:00 AM

IN STAR TANNERY, VA. Past the six cows on the right and the creaking barn on the left, Terry Goad opens the one-room post office here as she does every weekday morning, lifting the wooden service window and stepping outside to hoist a weathered American flag toward a gray winter sky.

Nearly 45 minutes later, Goad peers over reading glasses at her first patron, white-haired Helen Keller, 74, who enters the spit of a lobby to pick up a package for her daughter.

The mail is only part of what draws Keller and other residents of this rural nook to the post office, which is among 2,000 nationwide that the U.S. Postal Service says it might close to help stem losses of $23 million a day.

Keller is also here for the possibility of conversation, which she finds when she notices Yvonne Renner, 78, the post office's landlord and next-door neighbor. Renner's grandfather once served as postmaster. He was succeeded by her mother, Edna, whose photograph still hangs on the wall, 27 years after her reign's end.

"Hi, Helen," Renner says.

"Hi, Yvonne."

"My son just had knee surgery."

"Seems to be popular these days."

"It's always something."

" 'Tis that."

Ninety miles west of Washington, at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains, Star Tannery's main attractions are its church, which hosts an annual picnic on the second Saturday in August; a bar with $2 drafts and karaoke every Wednesday; a fire hall, home to the annual farmers carnival in July; a lone market that serves sandwiches on white - and white only - and does not have a toaster; and the post office, all of 308 square feet, which has been in the same white clapboard building since 1923, when Postmaster Hesler Himelright opened it in his general store.

Take away their post office, Star Tannery's residents say, and they will have to make a 20-mile round trip to Strasburg for that basic service. As much as inconvenience, they fear losing that inky black "Star Tannery, Va." on their postmark, a celebration of their place on the map.

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