More than 70 Uphams Corner residents crowded a meeting with United States Postal Service (USPS) officials last Thursday to voice their concern about the possible closure of the neighborhood’s post office.
The meeting was organized so officials could gather local arguments for maintaining the post office and integrate those comments into a report to give USPS decision-makers a clearer picture of the office’s role in the community. Although USPS officials present were quick to explain that they did not make the decision to review the Uphams Corner, Grove Hall, or 29 other Boston-area locations currently facing closure, many in attendance went on the offensive and criticized the discontinuation process.
If the Uphams Corner and Grove Hall post offices close, residents will need to travel to Dudley Square in Roxbury or Fields Corner to make transactions.
“This is the last place the Postal Service wants to be, discussing the discontinuation of this post office,” said Boston Postmaster James J. Holland during the opening moments of the meeting, which was held at the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC) offices on Columbia Road.
Holland explained that unlike previous discontinuation studies, the current round of closures is based on a “top-down” model in which USPS officials in Washington selected post offices making less than $600,000 a year, located less than two miles from an alternate site, and have shown declining revenue for the past three years. As a result, Holland said, demographic information about residents dependent on the office or unable to reach other sites is largely unknown.
“You have to understand that when this list gets generated at headquarters, it’s just a name on a piece of paper,” Holland said. “They don’t know much about the neighborhood, not even much about the city that post office is in.”
In the past fiscal year, the Uphams Corner and Grove Hall offices brought in about $423,000 and $254,000 respectively, with Uphams Corner showing a 5.7 percent decline in income and Grove Hall losing 8 percent of its business compared to the 2010 fiscal year. The Fields Corner branch saw a slight decline in business this year but made $835,000, while the area’s Roxbury-based main office saw a 0.6 percent increase in revenue, taking in $782,000.
Uphams Corner Main Streets executive director Max MacCarthy said at least 60 small business owners have already signed a petition arguing against any closure. MacCarthy criticized the discontinuation process for failing to acknowledge the large number of low-income and non-English speaking residents in the area.
“We shouldn’t need to tell you this,”said MacCarthy. “This is basic information you should have known from the start about the area. People here predominantly use public transit or walk to get around. When you’re talking about one mile [to the nearest alternate post office,] it’s not just a 10-minute drive up the street.”
Uphams Corner resident Octaviano Tavares said the added travel time and costs would limit access to the postal service. “So we close Uphams Corner, it’s going to cost more for us to mail anything because now we have to pay for our transport costs, just that $1.50 every day is going to add up.”
Uphams Corner Improvement Association member Nancy Conrad noted that while the meeting was well attended, the decision to only print signs and notices in English meant many residents had no idea the post office was in danger.
“We are not represented as a community by the residents at this meeting, we have very diverse ethnic groups in this neighborhood,” Conrad said. “You are affecting a huge number of people who are not here today because they could not read your signs.”
USPS district discontinuance coordinator Mike Foley explained that like the list of potentially discontinued post offices, the lack of alternate-language notices was a product of federal guidelines.
“We do it in English only for a reason, we don’t want to alienate anybody. We didn’t know where to draw the line. Where do you stop?” Foley said. “If I reached out to a Hispanic speaking community is there another community that is upset that I didn’t reach out to them? It’s a national process.”
Near the completion of the meeting, City Councillor Tito Jackson called for a comprehensive campaign to preserve both the Uphams Corner and Grove Hall post offices.
“We can’t send back the little cards they gave us and be done with it,” Jackson said. “We need a full campaign to generate thousands of signatures. That’s what will get this done.”