C-Stores Into P-Stores?

With thousands of post offices targeted for closure, will convenience stores step in?

WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) prepares to close as many as 3,653 post office facilities across the country, it will turn to convenience stores to become postal stores to fill service gaps nationwide, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The post offices, mostly in small communities, are targeted for possible closure this year under a plan expected to be released by the USPS today. The list, which will be made public Tuesday by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, is made up of facilities that were chosen because they get the "least [image-nocss] amount of foot traffic and retail sales" and because there may be local businesses that could provide some postal services to the community, USPS spokesperson Sue Brennan told the newspaper.

"Most of them are in smaller communities, but not all of them," she said, adding that the post offices, about 11% of the total, are spread across the nation.

Moves to close post offices are often unpopular, since many people see them as connecting rural areas and small towns to the rest of the nation, said the report. Doctors on the South Dakota plains deliver medicine through post offices, while towns in rural Kentucky and Iowa and elsewhere rely on their post offices as local gathering spots. The postal agency already has closed 100 post offices since January, prompting uproar in many of the affected communities.

The financially struggling postal service has been talking about paring its network of 32,000 brick-and-mortar post offices for months, but has not released a formal list of targeted post offices, the report said. The service--which receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations--has faced record losses because of retiree health costs and declining mail volume as more people communicate digitally.

Donahoe has recently talked about closing 16,000 post offices over the next 10 years, Brennan said.

In a step toward possibly closing the 3,653 post offices, the USPS plans to file a request with postal regulators on Wednesday for a "national change of service," Brennan said. The Postal Regulatory Commission would have to approve widespread facility closings.

Also, Donahoe told USA Today earlier this month that he is considering cutting Saturday delivery and perhaps going to a three-days-a-week delivery schedule.

Donahoe will announce "a replacement strategy," or a plan to have third-party retailers provide services in places that lose a post office. "If you're a community and there is a local convenience store, for example, we might be reaching out to these organizations to see if they would be interested in providing limited postal service for the community that might be affected," Brennan told the paper.

In recent years, convenience retailers including Casey's, Hucks, Expressway, BP and Tesoro, among others, have added post offices or postal services to their profit-center mix. (Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of c-stores and postal services.)

Before closing any of the post offices on the list, the agency would more formally study how much foot traffic each office generates and the postal service would have to provide notice to communities and hold meetings with local residents, she added. Given the process, no post office could close before December, she said.

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