By Jeffrey Hage
Princeton Union Eagle
Dolores Johnson has made a trip to check Post Office Box 38 at the Dalbo Post Office almost every day for 48 years.
At 81 years old she’s the self-proclaimed “Oldest of the old-timers.”
Johnson, who has lived in Dalbo all her life, acquired her Post Office Box in 1962, the same year she and her late husband Morris purchased the old Dalbo Pool Hall and renamed it the Dalbo Tavern and Cafe.
Back in those days the daily walk to the Post Office was a short one — across the street to be exact.
“I still walk up to the Post Office every day. Sometimes twice a day,” Dolores said.
It’s been her routine since 1962, but that could all be changing with a United States Postal Service (USPS) proposal to close the Dalbo Post Office.
USPS announced on Tuesday, July 26, that it is looking to close about 10 percent of its Post Office operations nationwide. About 3,600 Post Offices are being reviewed for closure. On the list are Post Offices in Dalbo, about 17 miles northeast of Princeton in Isanti County; Bock, about six miles east of Milaca in Mille Lacs County; and Grandy, about five miles north of Cambridge in Isanti County.
These offices are undergoing studies that will last several months, during which time USPS will look at revenues that offices produce, proximity to other post offices and community feedback from a survey mailed to post office customers. The survey will also be available to pick up in the post office.
“Money-saving is part of it, but it’s more a matter of people aren’t using post offices as often or in the same way as they used to,” said Peter Nowacki, spokesperson for USPS. For instance, 35 percent of revenue nationwide doesn’t come from retail offices, but through online and other sources, he said.
USPS plans to work with unions and management to try to find ways to reassign employees affected by the potential office closings, Nowacki said.
Every day an average of 17 people come into the Dalbo Post Office. It’s more than just a place to get mail, buy stamps and drop off an occasional package for mailing.
“It’s the community center,” says Laurie Gambino.
And Gambino should know.
She worked at the post office for 17 years and served as its last postmaster before retiring in 2007.
“It’s more than a place where people go to get their mail. It’s a place where people catch up with their friends and get the community news,” Gambino said.
It’s not a fancy place. As a matter of fact, the post office is located in rented space in the front of a house on main street that was erected on the site in 1917.
The building is musty, has no air conditioner to cool things down in the summer months and is home to a corkboard bulletin board filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of pin-sized holes where the community news has been hung for decades.
And the folks behind the counter at the post office become as close as family, because the “old-timers” stop by for a visit at the post office every day. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the oldest business in town.
That’s why Dalbo is shaken by the news that its Post Office might close.
The USPS held a community meeting at the town hall in Dalbo on June 28 to address closure concerns. Twenty-one people showed up that night to address their concerns. Another 88 people responded to a June 15 questionnaire mailed to Dalbo postal customers.
The results, according to USPS: three favored closing the post office, 11 opposed and 74 had no opinion.
In a report compiled by the USPS, the agency stated that Dalbo made the closure list for three reasons:
• The workload at the branch office has steadily decreased;
• Revenue has dropped 12.8 percent in the past two years;
• The office is open 5.75 hours per day
According to USPS, that data shows that the office may not be warranted and would be well served by rural route delivery out of the Stanchfield office, about 10 miles away. P.O. box customers could be served out of offices in Stanchfield or Princeton, located about 17 miles away.
An announcement on which offices are to close isn’t expected for several months, USPS spokesperson Nowacki said. After that, the office would remain open for 60 days for a public comment period, and there’s a 30 day period during which people can appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission.
“It will give people time to understand that change is coming, so the entire process might not be done until early next year,” he said.
For communities affected by the proposal, the Postal Service introduced the Village Post Office as a potential replacement option. Village Post Offices would be operated by local businesses, such as pharmacies or grocery stores, and would offer popular postal products and services such as stamps and flat-rate packaging.
It’s hard to convince Mikki Roderick-Schafer that those are good alternatives. She mans the Post Office these days and knows first hand the important role the Post Office plays in the community.
“I don’t think closing Dalbo is good because I know this community,” Roderick-Schafer said. “Changes in the Postal Service have hit everybody, but unfortunately it’s hit us a little harder.”
Nobody’s happy about the proposed closing, Roderick-Schafer said. “I just don’t know how far people will go to try to save it.”
Dolores Johnson is doing her part.
On Friday, July 28, she had just finished writing her third letter to Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken stating the need to keep the Post Office open. And Roderick-Schafer has been doing her part, letting people know about the situation at every opportunity and encouraging them to write the senators, too.
The closing of the Dalbo Post Office is now in limbo. A final decision is expected to be handed down in September.
If the Post Office does close, Roderick-Schafer figures it will be the end of her USPS career.
“My career will be done because I’m a postmaster relief and they’ve eliminated that position,” Roderick-Schafer said.
But Roderick-Schafer, a published author, has the next chapter in her life already planned out if the Post Office doors are locked.
“I’m going to go home and write another book,” she said.
—Elizabeth Sias contributed to this report