Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) trekked 90 miles from the Capitol today to buy $800 worth of postage stamps here in the latest gambit to save a tiny post office that the government has threatened to shut down.
The post office here is so small that it occupies one corner of the general store, but it is the center of village life in this town of 85 families. When the U.S. Postal Service threatened to close it last summer, townspeople rallied to the defense, newspapers began chronicling the struggle and Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.) rode to the rescue.
Dyson recently bought 2,000 stamps for his Christmas mail from the post office and convinced Boggs to buy 4,000. Sales like that and the post office's newfound fame have boosted earnings in the last three months to about $4,500--more than it usually takes in in an entire year.
Boggs, who is a descendant of the William Claiborne after whom the town was named, swept into the store early this morning, pronounced the place "adorable . . . just precious" and promised to lure more out-of-towners to Claiborne to purchase stamps.
"I've never seen anything quite like this," said Stanley Menashes, a postal official in Wilmington, Del., whose office oversees the Claiborne facility. "I can't think of any [proposed closing] that has caused this much hubbub."
But the fate of the post office is still in doubt. "No final decision has been made," said Menashes. "We're still looking at it."
Menashes said the postal service began a routine evaluation here after its postmaster retired last year.
"I can appreciate the concern of the people there, but we're not out to harm them," he said. "We're looking for a way to provide the best possible service at a reasonable cost."
The Postal Service pays about $10,000 in rent and wages to keep the Claiborne operation going each year, but in the fiscal year that ended last September, the facility took in only about $4,500, according to Hamlyn.
To the townspeople, however, the post office is far more than a place to pick up mail. It is a cozy shelter where youngsters wait for the school bus in winter, a safe place to leave an extra set of household keys, a spot to savor a warm cup of coffee or a hot bit of gossip. The threatened closing would also mean the end of the general store, the town's only commercial establishment, because the post office through rent and wages, in effect, subsidizes the store.
"It's all we've got besides the church," said Esther Jones, the retired postmaster, whose late husband T. Otis was postmaster before her for 37 years.
The Joneses owned the general store, where the post office is housed, until 1981, when "Miss Esther" sold the business to two newcomers from Annapolis, Jim Richardson and his wife, Martha Hamlyn. After "Miss Esther" retired, Hamlyn was put on the Postal Service payroll for $4.28 an hour as the "officer in charge" -- a designation below that of postmaster, Hamlyn said.
Last summer, the Postal Service questioned townspeople about the need for the post office. That was followed by a visit from a postal official, who came to town expecting to inspect the facility and chat casually with the residents. Instead she was greeted by a U.S. congressman and a standing-room-only crowd of residents in the little store.
Dyson orchestrated that meeting. "The Postal Service is looking at statistics. This is what it costs or this is not profitable," Dyson said today. "We say they ought to consider other things. This post office keeps the town alive."