No late post office dash

Pushing the envelope? Not after 24-hour airport service ends.

Published January 9, 2007

TAMPA - The bumper sticker on her yellow Jeep Wrangler says, "I don't believe in miracles. I depend on them."

In 2001, Agnieszka Pniewski needed a post office open around the clock. The high school senior was applying to college, and like many of her friends, doing it on deadline. That's where the post office at Tampa International Airport came in handy.

The only post office in the Tampa Bay area open 24 hours, seven days a week, it serves procrastinators of all types, whether they are playing Santa Claus, looking to stay in the IRS' good graces or hoping to preserve last-minute college hopes.

It has been that way for 20 years.

But on March 3, that tradition ends. Looking to save about $100,000 a year, the Postal Service will no longer put retail counter employees on duty during the graveyard hours at the TIA office. On weekdays, human help will be limited to between 6 a.m. and midnight; 8 a.m. until midnight on weekends.

The facility and its vending machines and mail slots will remain open all the time, allowing customers to buy stamps, send certified mail, mail packages with insurance and drop off letters, post office spokeswoman Bridget Robertson said.

"The only things you cannot do are purchase a money order or mail a registered letter," she said of overnight hours.

The decision to cutback came after a survey showed that a maximum of 12 customers used the post office after midnight. Half of them worked in the building, which employs 1,200 and serves as Tampa's main mail processing center.

"When you're looking at six hours, 12 customers," Robertson said, "it doesn't make good business sense."

Counter hours could be extended during the holiday and tax season, she said.

That's a good thing, customers said, but they said they'll still miss the security they enjoyed just knowing a postal worker was available when insomnia struck - or when people remembered a loved one's birthday with just a day to spare.

"Christmas time is probably the time I fancy it the most," said Quentin Rutherford-Smith, 43, who reached into the hatchback of his car Monday afternoon and pulled out a package containing a nonstick cookie sheet he was sending to New Zealand.

It was a delinquent Christmas present.

Pniewski, now 23, recalled the mad dash to beat college deadlines. She did, and graduated from the University of Florida in 2005.

"Every single one of us - some of us got speeding tickets - came here to get them post-marked by the application deadline," she said.

And in Pniewski's hand Monday? A birthday card and hand-rolled cigar for a friend.

Also belated.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

New hours

Starting March 3, the Tampa International Airport post office's retail counter will no longer be open 24 hours.

Weekdays: 6 a.m. to midnight.

Weekends: 8 a.m. to midnight .

Vending machines and mail slots: Open 24 hours.