STOCKBRIDGE — The sudden shutdown of the Glendale village post office, serving 86 box holders, was caused by a breakdown in lease negotiations with the owner of the building housing the facility.
According to a staffer at U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s office, that is the reason the U.S. Postal Service issued an emergency suspension of service at the small post office, which has served village residents in several locations since 1851.
The Postal Service announced the transfer of service to the main downtown post office in messages to residents and town officials Monday night. The 17 Glendale Road office will close at 5 p.m. Friday. Residents can pick up their mail from designated post office boxes during regular hours at the downtown facility starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The short-notice closing aroused consternation among town officials. The Stockbridge Board of Health held an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the prospect of postponing the closure because of COVID-19 exposure concerns.
“A planned imminent closure of the Glendale Post Office would be counterproductive to the board’s, and everyone else’s, efforts to diminish propagation of the coronavirus,” said Dr. Charles Kenny, chairman of the Board of Health.
“The board unanimously decided to ask town counsel to take action to delay the closure until after the epidemic had subsided,” he explained. “We also contacted every one of our state and national representatives, asking them to intercede to delay the closure for similar reasons.”
The staffer at Neal’s office told The Eagle that if the relocation of service for Glendale customers doesn’t work out or causes problems at the main post office, the Postal Service might look into leasing a new site in the village along Route 183, 2 miles west of downtown.
Because the change in service is classified as an emergency suspension, normal procedures for post office closings, such as 60 days’ advance notice for public comment, don’t apply, Neal’s aide pointed out.
“We are very concerned about how sudden the closure of the Glendale [post office] is happening,” Town Administrator Michael Canales said earlier. “At a time when we are asking people to spread out due to COVID-19, we are suddenly adding 100 post office boxes to Main Street, creating more traffic. The quick closure does not allow for any public input, or transparency in why this is happening.”
Select Board member Roxanne McCaffrey also expressed concern about resulting potential congestion at the Elm Street office, which already serves more than 1,000 box holders.
“There is no additional room for expansion within the building,” she told The Eagle. “With social distancing, there is already not much space for a window service line.”
On Wednesday, when asked whether the closing was temporary or permanent, Postal Service spokeswoman Amy Gibbs responded: “We don’t know yet. Our priority is getting our customers situated at Stockbridge and ensuring that there is no break in service. No plans for a return to the Glendale Post Office have been determined at this time.”
The Glendale office, with its own 01229 ZIP code, is housed in a former private residence. The owner of the property, John A. Miller Jr., did not return a call for comment.
The office, founded in 1851, used to serve more than 150 customers and was sited for many years in the former general store that closed in 1958.
Glendale resident Kim Saul, owner of the Schantz Galleries in Stockbridge, voiced sadness over the loss of “the only community-based business here in our village. I understand things change over time. We will certainly miss seeing our nearby friends and neighbors as often, and especially walking to the post office.”
“I like being in this small town,” she added, “and it was always a source of pride when someone would ask, ‘Isn’t Glendale Stockbridge?’ I would say, ‘Well, we pay taxes to Stockbridge, but we have our own ZIP code and post office!’ ”
A lifelong Glendale resident who asked not to be identified said he was resigned to the shutdown.
“What can you do? It’s the way of the world,” he said.
Other communities in Berkshire County have seen their post offices closed, notably Windsor in 2010, although that hilltown has home-delivered mail. Nevertheless, residents have to travel 8 miles, to Dalton, for other postal services.
But, Stockbridge is the county’s largest town with no carrier service to most residents, a tradition dating to 1792, when the first post office was established there. The main post office on Elm Street had a close call in 2012, when lease negotiations hit a snag that was resolved.
There is limited rural free delivery to the town’s Interlaken neighborhood from the West Stockbridge Post Office.
In a nonbinding referendum at the 2005 town election, residents voted 122-102 in favor of seeking mail delivery. But, nothing materialized.
Last January, the Postal Service closed the post office in Mill River, part of New Marlborough, and transferred service to its facility in Southfield, another of the town’s five villages.