Post office comes to Midtown -- in a way
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- New postal services are coming to a Midtown neighborhood that hasn't had any for years.
But Mayor Rick Baker, who has campaigned for a Midtown post office similar to those in other parts of the city, is not cheering.
A postal contract unit -- essentially, a service counter inside an existing business -- opens Monday inside the 18th Avenue Supermarket, 1856 18th Ave. S. There are several others in and around St. Petersburg.
Patrons can do all the usual postal activities there: buy stamps and money orders, mail letters and packages and send express mail, for example.
Midtown residents now must go to the main branch, 3135 First Ave. N, or the Gulfwinds branch, 4222 22nd Ave. S. Each is about two miles from the 18th Avenue Supermarket.
Baker would rather see the new services go into an existing postal service building at 1750 16th St. S.
"I've written letters. I've had meetings. I've not made any headway at this point. I don't believe this is the solution," Baker said.
He said he'll continue to push his preference for the 16th Street S building, called the South Carrier Annex.
"It sounds to me like it ought to open up as a post office. They have the building, they have the facility," said Baker, who said he offered to help pay to change the annex into a full-service post office.
Some residents agree with the mayor.
"As far as attractability, I would have preferred it to go in the big building on 16th Street. That's the one everyone identifies as the post office," said Chrisshun Cox, president of the Melrose-Mercy/Pine Acres Neighborhood Association.
The neighborhood's southern border is 18th Avenue S near the market.
But, said Cox, "We don't all patronize these stores" along the avenue.
Moreover, the lack of a full-service postal building carries a symbolic aspect, Cox said. "Are they afraid to come into our neighborhood?" he asked.
U.S. Postal Service officials have said the annex isn't set up as a full-service facility. Spokesman Gary Sawtelle reiterated that position this week. He suggested the annex is not the best location for a retail outlet.
"We do retail mapping and try to find locations convenient and accessible. Is that the best possible place for a retail location? Maybe not," Sawtelle said.
Plans call for the postal counter in the market, which is about three blocks from the annex, to open quietly on Monday. A grand opening is scheduled July 26, postal officials said.
Eric Mallay, who owns the 18th Avenue Supermarket, emerged as the best candidate after the Postal Service spent several months looking, officials said.
Interested businesses go through a competitive bid process and the Postal Service's Memphis purchasing office makes the decision. Mallay will get a percentage of the revenue the store's postal counter generates.
"This is a perfect example of how the (Postal Service) is going to transform itself. The post office of the future is going to rely more on partnerships and less on building brick and mortar," Sawtelle said.
The Postal Service has been facing financial problems because of rising costs, falling business and competition from e-mail and firms such as UPS and FedEx.
Sawtelle said longer operating hours are an advantage of partnerships such as the one with Mallay. Post offices are typically open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, with shorter weekend hours, while contracts units in businesses can offer customers later and earlier hours.
Mallay said his store is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
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