Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Post Office Redecorates

The Post Office has always been a community center of sorts. Not like the pre-fab commercial Town Centers that grace our highway signs today, but a community center of the truest sort.

Vintage MailboxThe post office has always been the place where neighbors bumped into each other as they collected their mail, sent their holiday packages to far-flung friends and family, or simply paused together to gawk at the “Most Wanted” posters.

But that was then and this is now.

Now the post office has gone commercial. Today the post office sells boxes, padded bags, shipping labels, shipping fillers, as well as cute collectibles like teddy bears, toys and pins. In more than one sense it is in competition with the bank and the gift shop down the street, Western Union, Toys-R-Us and Kinkos. As a result, the post office needed to spiff up its image.

Post Offices all over the country have scraped years of accumulated grime off their walls, repainted, and added specialty windows for stamp collectors or people who just want to buy postage. On the walls are large posters for USPS-sanctioned collectibles, commemorative stamp series and other USPS-sponsored products-for-sale.

Most strikingly, the Most Wanted posters are gone, whacked into oblivion by the new, upscale ambience.

No longer will the neighborhood post office have those scary, snarling faces staring at me as I walk out the door. Today, if I want to know if that suspicious man trimming my neighbor’s hedge is a Really, Really Bad Guy operating incognito, I’ll have to go to the online to the FBI’s Web site, or to the website of John Walsh (the founder of “America’s Most Wanted” TV show) for confirmation or comfort.

While I appreciate the new, cleaner look of my local post office, and I love the express line for stamp buyers, there is a neighborhood feeling that is lost forever.

I miss the old yellowed map of our little town that had been on the wall for decades. I miss the community bulletin board with its message about a missing beloved dog and the local-kid-made-good newspaper clipping that a proud parent posted for all to see. I miss the neighbors standing around in clusters sharing photos of the kids and tsk-tsking about the price of tomatoes at the Safeway. And yes, I miss those Most Wanted posters, too.

They say you can’t be all things to all people, but the Post Office lost its vibrant soul when it went upscale retail.

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