Did you know the U.S. Postal Service station in the village of Fairhaven on Bellingham’s south side is closing? Here’s the story.
For well over 100 years, Fairhaven has had postal service. We had a post office when Fairhaven and New Whatcom equally combined their cities in 1904 and chose the neutral name, “Bellingham.” For the last 70 years or so, it has been what the Postal Service calls a “contract station” - a post office inside another business. Indeed, it has moved from where Paper Dreams is now, to 21st Street, to beside Trek Video, to a hardware store on Harris Avenue, to a shop next to Skylark’s Cafe, to the Sycamore Square building, and finally, to Yorky’s Market across the street from the Haggen Food & Pharmacy. But as of next Tuesday, Dec 27, it will close. Why?
Well, of course no one wants it to close, but large organizations make decisions that often have unintended negative consequences on people and towns. The national postal workers union has been fighting to stop the U.S. Postal Service from allowing the 250 or more Staples office supply stores across the country from becoming contract post offices. The union figures it would hurt member work opportunities.
Naturally, it all ended in court - as a remedy against postal workers going on strike. Last July, a federal judge arbitrated a deal to restrict the U.S. Postal Service from expanding contract stations while they and the union worked things out. The judge ruled there were to be no new contract stations before July 2017 - and that ban may be extended. Notice it supposedly only applies to ‘new’ contract stations.
Meanwhile, Yorky’s Market in Fairhaven is closing. Pizzaza will take over the space and convert it into a great pizza restaurant. The postal contract should have gone up for bid to other Fairhaven businesses, and the Haggen store is interested in providing the postal office as a community service. Remember, they are literally right across the street from Yorky’s.
But the judge - at the insistence of the union - denied even moving an existing contract station to a new location in the same community. The intention of the union is not to close the Fairhaven contract station, but they are hell-bent on winning the public relations argument with the U.S. Postal Service and the union is hoping people will blame the postal service and not the union. Union spokespeople insist they are not to blame. But they are. A word from the union and the judge would allow Fairhaven postal service to continue in a new location across the street.
So, who are the good guys? Who is showing some real Christmas spirit? Well, of course Haggen for apparently being ready to provide a vital service to the community. And the Yorkston family has worked hard, keeping the post office functioning until after Christmas, while slowly closing their market around the postal counter. Matt Yorkston in particular has worked for months trying to save the service and get it transferred within Fairhaven. He even flew to Denver to plead with postal executives. Yorky’s has maintained service for weeks at their own expense in order to serve the Fairhaven community. As a postal patron and 40-year box holder, I thank them.
Another good guy is Scott Manier, the local postmaster. He has arranged for all the P.O. boxes in Fairhaven to be moved next week to the downtown post office at Cornwall and Magnolia. Everyone with a P.O. box will be able to continue using the same box number, same key for getting mail, and even the same zip code of 98227. This is all premised on the hope our postal service contract will return some time in the future - maybe next July. Gee, maybe even earlier if the union and the judge gain a little common sense. Okay, maybe that’s a little too hopeful.
Is a three-mile trip to the downtown post office that much of an inconvenience for me? No, not really. But for businesses in Fairhaven who ship every day and for many older people who live in Fairhaven, it is difficult. In the end, the postal workers union will lose because even more people will switch to UPS and FedEx and alternatives to the postal service. So it turns out, the postal workers union is the Grinch stealing the Fairhaven postal services. With the judge callously enabling. How ironic. Indeed.