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Old school Alexandria post office on chopping block

Wednesday - 7/27/2011, 4:42pm  ET

The Seminary Post Office is on the USPS list of potential closures. (WTOP/Meera Pal)
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Meera Pal,

WASHINGTON - It's a little like stepping back in time when you open the bright red door to the Theological Seminary Post Office in Alexandria.

Beyond the pre-Civil-War-era building, there's a sense of community inside the little white house on the hill.

Post office patrons walk in and greet the Postmistress by her first name, "Hi, Terri!" A well-worn bulletin board showcases the latest postal rates, along with yellowed newspaper clippings, several cards for local businesses and a 4x6 note card selling bedroom furniture.

Word that the United States Postal Service is considering closing 3,600 offices, branches and stations across the country -- including the Seminary Post Office -- spread quickly in the neighborhood.

One local resident who gave her name as Mrs. Redmon says the closure would have a big impact on her. Redmon, who has lived in the neighborhood for 37 years, receives her daily mail at the Seminary Post Office and knows the postmistress well. She notes that the current postmistress, Terri, travels all the way from Waldorf, Md.

Redmon says she does not have e-mail or a cell phone, and typically spends about $50 a week on postage. She already has pre-printed her Christmas cards with the Seminary post office's address.

"If they wanted to take away Saturday, take away Saturday," she says. "Don't take away the Seminary Post Office."

The Seminary Post Office sits on the campus of the Theological Seminary, which owns the building. They allow the postal service to operate out of the site.

The post office announced Tuesday that in light of the increasing number of postal customers who conduct business online, on their smartphones and elsewhere, the organization is studying about 3,700 retail offices "to determine customers needs."

There are 19 post office locations being considered for closure in the District of Columbia, about 40 in Maryland, and roughly 90 in Virginia.

"Just because they are on the list doesn't necessarily mean they are closing," says Dennis Voorhees, manager of post office operations for Northern Virginia and post office review coordinator.

Voorhees will be conducting studies of the post offices on the list, looking at potential savings to the postal service, the impact it could have on the surrounding community, and whether there are alternative postal service sites for residents.

The next closest post office for Seminary Hill residents is in the Bradlee Shopping Center on King Street, about 2 miles away. But, Redmon says "You'd have to find a legal parking spot first."

With more and more customers forgoing "snail mail" for e-mail and other forms of communication, the postal service lost $8 billion last year. The post office relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. It receives no tax dollars for operating expenses.

"Thirty-five percent of our retail revenue now comes from these alternate access locations," he says. "Our habits of our customers are changing ... Our foot traffic is declining."

Alternate access locations include grocery stores, drug stores, office supply stores and self-service kiosks and ATMs.

Voorhees says that customer visits to post office locations across the country have declined 200 million in the last five years. The postal service operates nearly 32,000 retail offices across the country, which is down from 38,000 from ten years ago.

In addition to considering post office closures, the postal service has also asked Congress to cut back mail delivery service to five days a week and ease the schedule for funding retiree health benefits.

Most of the post offices that are under review for closure are in rural, less populated areas, including the Seminary Post Office, which is located on the campus of the Virginia Theological Seminary. The school, founded in 1823, currently has 232 students enrolled. The post office serves the students and staff at the college, as well as the residents of Seminary Hill.

"If it closes, it's going to have a big impact because it's our school post office," says Heather Zdancewicz, vice president for administration and finance for the college.

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