At a time when most post offices are swamped with Christmas cards, packaged gifts and harried customers, one that remains blissfully calm this time of year is the one located just outside the wrought iron gates of Georgetown University, at 37th and O streets NW.
Richard Druker, the clerk and financial supervisor for the Hoya Station, said "It'll slow down between now and right during Christmas, and it'll be dead. You'll say, 'How come at all the other stations everyone's lined up?' But [here] , the kids have gone home."
There are 53 U.S. Post Offices in the city and Hoya Station is one of 18 contract stations in the metropolitan area. That means it is owned by Georgetown University and staffed with university employees, but through a contractual relationship with the Postal Service, offers all the services of a first-class post office, except C.O.D. and Express Mail shipments.
Other contract stations are located at universities like Howard and Catholic, and on Capitol Hill.
Max Stallsworth, director of postal services for the office said Hoya Station is special because "Usually, contract stations do not handle international mail, but we have students from all over the world. They have to use the mail to communicate with their parents."
Stallsworth said 90 percent of his customers are students and staff and the rest are residents of Georgetown and surrounding areas.
"We have people coming over here from Rosslyn across the [Key] Bridge. One of the reasons they come over here is we have a very pleasant post office. One woman used to walk all the way across the bridge from Rosslyn" because, "she said, 'You all treat me so nice.' "
However, some customers are not so pleasant. Rita Broadnax, front-window postal clerk for four years, said "It's the people who come in who don't realize that this is not a U.S. Post Office, and they ask for certain things and we don't have them. Then you have to do a lot of explaining as to why and how come."
Hoya Station delivers mail and packages to over 3,000 students and almost 50 university departments. And as may be expected of a university post office, it gets its share of academic mail. According to Stallsworth, the university spent over $1.1 million on postage last year, and most of it went through Hoya Station.
"Last week, Father Angelo D'Agostino brought in 10 bags of books to go to a theology school in Kenya -- that's 10 mail bags each weighing 75 to 100 pounds," said Stallsworth. "We receive live animals here in plastic boxes from Florida -- snakes, centipedes, small alligators -- whatever [the] biology [department] happens to need."
Since Hoya Station moved from the oldest building on campus inside the university gates to a more accessible spot on 37th Street three years ago, its volume has increased more than 30 percent, according to Stallsworth. "The mail has just busted out all over the place. Campus mail is now running about as heavy as first-class mail. . . . On a holiday, we're able to have enough work on those days in campus mail to keep everybody busy. That should tell you something about the volume."
Two new student-housing complexes have gone up in that time. Students, programs and alumni have all increased, too.
The university is building another dorm with 700 beds and a student center to accommodate student organizations and visiting guests who will receive mail service. Stallsworth expects the increase to continue.
Stallsworth employs 12 full-time staff members and six students who sort and deliver mail to the dorms. Two early morning pickups from nearby Friendship Station on Wisconsin Avenue enable employes to give students and staff same-day mail service.
Students even get two deliveries -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
"In the mail service, you have to have someone who's interested in the mail," said mail room and distribution supervisor Malcolm Christian, who retired from the Postal Service after 35 years.
When Hoya Station hired Christian, he said, "They were looking for someone to help Mr. Stallsworth straighten the post office out. It was fouled up when I came here, because of the shortage of staff and student help. I came here in November, and mail was still backed up."
The main reason, he said, was that student workers went home over the summer and there was no new help.
While the holiday season strikes other post offices now, however, Christian and others now their next busy period is months away.
"September is about the busiest time because we're setting up the boxes, issuing new box numbers and making sure all the boxes work. And they're getting all the packages in, stamps are coming in and they want everything at once," Druker said.