STOCKBRIDGE — Mystery shrouds an announcement by the U.S. Postal Service that customers in the village of Glendale along Route 183 will have to pick up their mail at the busy downtown Stockbridge post office beginning Saturday.
The sudden decision to close the Glendale Post Office, made public Tuesday, caught customers and local officials by surprise, arousing concern in a town with no home delivery of mail, requiring Glendale residents to visit the main post office with only three designated parking spaces in the midst of a pandemic.
The shutdown of the tiny Glendale outpost, effective at 5 p.m. Friday, was disclosed in a notice to 86 customers from Postmaster Roderick Drees, who is in charge of the main Stockbridge post office on Elm Street, which already serves more than 1,000 box holders.
But, conflicting information emerged Tuesday afternoon on whether the move is temporary or, as understood by town officials, permanent.
Asked for clarification, Postal Service spokesman Stephen Doherty, based in Boston, stated via email: “To be clear, the Post Office is not closing this office. This is an Emergency Suspension. These occur mainly due to circumstances beyond our control.”
But, what is the emergency?
According to Select Board member Roxanne McCaffrey, who was investigating the matter Tuesday, the “emergency suspension” stemmed from a decision by the owner of the Glendale Road building housing the small facility not to renew the Postal Service’s lease.
The landlord, identified as John A. Miller Jr., could not be reached immediately for comment.
Doherty, a strategic communications specialist for the USPS Northeast Region, explained that “whether due to weather hazards or damage, fire, structural or safety concerns or a landlord’s decision to not continue our lease, when this occurs, our first concern is to minimize any disruption of service to our customers.”
“Relocating our Post Office boxholders to the Stockbridge office at this time will insure that their mail service will continue uninterrupted while the Postal Service examines its options,” he told The Eagle. “More information will be forthcoming but our primary concern, at this point, is to insure a smooth transition to Stockbridge with no disruption or delays in service to our Glendale customers.”
All post office boxes at the Glendale office will be relocated to the main office without interruption of service. Any mail not picked up by Friday will be moved to the Elm Street facility, Drees advised customers.
The affected residents in Glendale will be given a new post office box key on their first visit to the main post office, he stated, and identification will be required. The downtown post office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and 8:30 to noon Saturdays. Lobby hours for access to post office boxes are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Glendale village post office was established 169 years ago and was maintained from 1923 to 2016 by four generations of the same family — Peter I. Adams, Helen A. Miller, Dorothea A. Miller and Lois A. Hall — and was housed for a time in the former Glendale Store before moving in 1956 to its current location on Route 183.
The short-notice Postal Service decision to relocate the office did not sit well with town officials.
“How does it make sense during a pandemic, while experiencing a surge, to shut down a small, rural post office?” McCaffrey asked. “Those box holders in Glendale will now need to make arrangements at the main Stockbridge Post Office to receive their mail, creating more congestion in the middle of town while we all need to be most cautious about exposure.”
McCaffrey said she has reached out to the office of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, for assistance.
Also sounding an alarm, Board of Health Chairman Dr. Charles Kenny stated that “considering last week that the daily Massachusetts COVID-19 cases were higher than any week thus far, including the surge last spring, and that Berkshire County is now experiencing an unprecedented rise in cases, closing a local post office at this time is imprudent and contrary to the logic underlying control of spread of the epidemic.”
“This closure should be put off until the disease has been contained,” Kenny asserted.
“In a moment in our history where a pandemic rages, the decision to close the Glendale Post Office seems, at best, poorly timed and, at worst, a significant health risk to our community,” Selectman Patrick White commented.
“I recognize and respect the USPS’ need to cut costs in an effort to reduce its deficits,” he said. “Those decisions, however, shouldn’t come at the expense of the health and well-being of either postal workers or the community they serve.”
White emphasized that “we need to confirm that all federal laws were followed regarding the notice, comment period, and written findings required as part of any decision to close the Glendale Post Office.”
He cited federal regulations stating that the public must be given 60 days’ notice of a proposed action to enable post office customers to evaluate the proposal and provide comments.
According to a provision of the U.S. Code, “final determination to close or consolidate a post office must be made in writing and must include findings covering all the required considerations after public comments are received. Written determination must be made available to the customers served by the office at least 60 days beforehand.”
White also pointed out that the code allows any customer served by the affected post office to appeal the decision to the Postal Rate Commission within 30 days of the written determination. The commission is required to make a determination on the appeal no later than 120 days after receiving the appeal.