SALEM The hamlet of Shushan in the town of Salem has about 800 residents, a family-run grocery store, a community park, a museum and several churches.
Until last week, residents also had a post office that was run out of an old train depot.
But the post office is closed, at least temporarily, in what the U.S. Postal Service has called “an emergency suspension,” because of the poor condition of the rented building.
About 90 postal box customers have been directed to services at the Salem post office, 8.5 miles away. Home delivery services have not been interrupted for the 275 customers served from the Shushan location.
The situation is not sitting well with residents or town officials who are tempering rumors that the closing is permanent, while also seeking a new location for the post office to return.
“A post office is critical for a small community,” said Rebecca Miller, a Shushan business owner. “The soul of a small village is having a shop, a post office and a church. Without them, the fabric of the community unravels.”
Salem Town Supervisor Seth Pitts said he received no advance notice that the location was closing.
“I found out after the people in Shushan,” Pitts said.
Although town officials have no authority in closing the post office or keeping it open, they are actively trying to secure another location for Shushan customers.
“There are also a lot of little home businesses that thrive and need the post office services to operate,” Pitts said.
The additional 17-mile drive for those customers could have a serious negative impact on their operations, he said.
Pitts said he and fellow board members have been told the Shushan location was profitable, so they are hopeful a new location will be considered.
“I wish the Postal Service would come and talk to us,” said Town Board member Butch Gilchrest.
In the meantime, town officials said they hope residents will hold off on switching from postal box service to home delivery, as encouraged by the USPS, because a reduction in box customers could create a reason for the Shushan office to remain closed.
Kyle Hunter, owner of Salem Hardware, said, “We’ve had a run on mailboxes in the last week.”
Hunter believes many customers are opting out of box services and now subscribing to home delivery.
A Postal Service return to the previous office, at 691 county Route 64, is highly unlikely as the property is in bankruptcy and the necessary repairs include mold removal and foundation work, at a minimum.
Pitts said the town has had little contact with the Postal Service, but is aware a new location would have federal regulations to meet, although he was not certain all of the requirements.
For certain, he said, parking; handicapped accessibility, including a bathroom; and separate entrances for deliveries and customers is mandatory.
Those requirements could rule out some locations that had been tossed around.
“We’re open to learn information and see what the regulations are,” said Dennis Yushak, owner of Yushak’s Supermarket at 3 Main St. in Shushan.
He said he would consider locating postal boxes and possibly a service counter in his store if he could meet the requirements.
Miller said she is also offering half of her building, now used as an antiques store across from Yushak’s, as a possible site.
“I’m not trying to compete for it. If someone else has a better location, then great. I’m just offering it because it is so critical that we keep a post office here,” she said.
“It’s a hub of the community,” he said.
The old train depot had been used for at least 40 years as the post office, Yushak said. That could be one of the reasons residents have become passionate about keeping it.
“It can be an emotional issue. No one wants to see us lose a part of our community,” he said.
You can read Christina Scanlon’s blog daily at www.poststar.com or follow her on Twitter, @CJ_Scanlon.