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Post office delivers bad news to Challenge
For some rural post offices in Yuba County, this year's holiday season and its typical higher-than-normal traffic could also be the last.
Beginning next year, the US Postal Service plans to begin reducing operating hours from eight to as few as two a day in an effort to stem financial losses.
But patrons of post offices such as the one in Challenge said cutting hours don't take into account the necessity of convenience in rural areas.
"I'd end up having to get a job in town," said Daniel Estes, 22, a landscaper and laborer who said he relies on the Challenge office still being open for an hour after his workday has ended. "I do all my major business through the post office."
Beginning as soon as February, hours will be reduced for offices in La Porte, as well as Clipper Mills and Forbestown. Because it has a postmaster, offices in Challenge and Dobbins won't see a reduction in hours until mid-2014. The office in Grimes, in Colusa County, is also subject to the changes.
"It's safe to say they'll operate with reduced hours," said Gus Ruiz, a Northern California-based spokesman for the postal service.
Ruiz said the Sacramento-area district, which includes Yuba-Sutter, has been holding as many as three public meetings a week with people who would be affected by the changes to give them advance notice.
A decline in first-class mail, brought on by both the economic downturn and bill paying moving to the Internet, has sapped the service's financial stability. Earlier this month, postal service officials announced a record quarterly loss of $15.9 billion, much of it stemming from retiree health benefits.
At the Challenge office Friday, many who popped in to get their mail or drop off a letter — the rural area has next to no local postal routes — said the office is a lifeline for them.
"They won't get us the Internet service to pay our bills online, so we pay them here," said Kathy George, 66, who said she stops by the office at least once a day.
Beyond just the mail, the office is also a drop-off point for other parcel delivery services such as UPS. And between postings for lost dogs and firewood for sale in the lobby and the long conversations customers often have with the employees and each other, many said the office is also an unofficial community center of sorts.
"If you're working in La Porte, or out of town, it's going to be very difficult," said Alexis Smith, 29, of Challenge. "It's very frustrating. You wish you could have a little of everything."
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.