The West Friendship, Md., post office will likely shorten its hours rather than close.
WEST FRIENDSHIP, Md. (CNNMoney) -- When the U.S. Postal Service announced a news conference earlier this week, many customers and some workers at rural post offices thought it was to announce a hit list of closings and layoffs to deal with massive red ink at the agency.
So there was surprise and delight in rural Maryland on Wednesday. Word spread that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe would instead allow local communities to decide between a cutback in hours, merging with a retail merchant or proceeding with a shutdown if their small post office is targeted for cost cutting.
Postal officials believe the most popular choice will be to reduce the operating schedule.
"That would be fine, cutting back the hours," said customer Ellen Jones, collecting her mail from a box at the West Friendship, Md., post office, about 30 miles west of Baltimore. The storefront facility serves a large geographic area that includes many farms.
Jones said she can accept reduced hours more easily than a shutdown, since "it's still convenient for people, especially for those of us that live out this way -- rather than having to take a half-hour trip, because everything's a half hour from here."
"But the post office for me is less than five minutes, actually, so I do utilize it," she added.
The location's postmaster for the past ten years, Shirley A. Barber, has worried she would lose her rural route delivery carriers if they were moved to a bigger facility farther away, and that the Postal Service especially planned to target sites like hers that rent the office space.
So she was surprised at the apparent reprieve that would cut the office's hours.
"You know, they were talking about closing, I was gonna accept whatever they decide to do," Barber said. "But I know keeping them open is truly the greatest thing they could do for us."
Most of her customers agreed when asked what they would choose to do.
"I would much rather adapt to the hour change rather than closing, yes, because this is convenient, this is a rural area and we need it," said Bernadette Evans.
Putting up with less than a full business day is already part of having to deal with the local post office, noted Teddey Jones, who often finds the door closed and locked for an hour in the middle of the day.
"It's already a pain they have the lunch hours now which gets me every time when I come out here to get the mail or drop something off," Jones said. "But I'm happy this is staying open."
About 10 miles away from West Friendship, the Glenwood, Md., post office is in a modern brick building owned by the Postal Service. Yet it fits the profile of a "rural" location that could be combined with others in the area.
Customer Susan Heald said the strategy doesn't make sense.
"I think that if you're in a city you probably have more access to other post offices to go to, but if you're out here, where are you gonna go if they take your post office away?," she asked. "It seems the opposite should be happening."
And other customers believe the Postal Service hasn't done enough to trim fat in its overall operations before even suggesting cutbacks in local post offices.
"Too much overhead," Robert Burgess said after dropping off a letter at the Lisbon/Cooksville, Md., post office. "Go to some of the bigger post offices, you see them standing around, doing nothing. I mean clean your own house first."
Back at West Friendship, Ed Surowiec also questioned the cost-cutting strategy. "I'm retired from corporate America and it seems to be that every time they want to save money they go to the lowest rung on the ladder to do it," he said.
Rather that cut hours, which he acknowledged he wouldn't mind, he suggested putting pressure on postal officials to achieve greater efficiency.
"The easy way is just to cut services, and a lot of businesses do that as well," Surowiec said. "They want to save money, they lay people off, and I think that's just a typical way of copping out on the problem."
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