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Alton residents worry post office gone for good





ALTON -- The surprise closing of the Alton Post Office sent boxholders scrambling for curbside mailboxes rather than make the one-way drive of 18 miles to pick up mail in Stockton.

It's something of a double whammy for the Osborne County community of 103 residents that is searching for someone to run the recently closed Bull City Cafe.

Several residents already consider it a foregone conclusion the U.S. Postal Service permanently will close the facility anyway, something the quasi-governmental agency wanted to do anyway until it was rebuffed by Congress.

Residents also find it ironic USPS recently upgraded the post office, installing an outside security light and other security features inside the limestone building to make the lobby -- and the boxes -- available 24 hours a day.

The closing is a result of "deteriorating building conditions," USPS spokesman Brian Sperry said of the recent post office suspension.

The 19 customers served by post office boxes were told they could pick up their mail at the Stockton Post Office or put up a mailbox and receive delivery via a rural mail carrier already serving part of the community.

"The Alton Post Office is only suspended at this point," Sperry said in an email. "The Postal Service is reviewing the situation. It's too early to say what our plans are for the post office."

Alton's Mayor Eldon Hartzler is convinced the decision already has been made, even though nothing's been said so far.

He has plenty of insight into the situation, considering he added extra space specifically for the post office in the building housing Hartzler Hardware, and submitted cost estimates to USPS shortly after.

Local postal officials reminded supervisors of that option when the existing building was deemed unsafe.

At least two part-time postal employees were put on leave when the building was closed.

"It's kind of an end-run to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish," Hartzler said of closing the post office.

Fellow Alton City Councilman Roy Ballard said he and others previously have offered to construct a building to keep the post office in Alton.

Hartzler and Ballard, personally and through his Bull City Gun Shop, maintained post office boxes to help ensure the post office would stay.

Two mailboxes were sitting on the glass counter at the gun shop recently, ready for installation.

The closing came as a surprise to the community.

"Basically, they shut the office down," said Roger Cooper, an Alton musician and contractor.

Inside, virtually everything remained as if frozen in time, save for gaps in the counter where cash and stamp drawers were removed.

"We were told we could have rural mail carrier at our place," Cooper said. "So the next day, we went and got a box."

He marveled at the closing so soon after making improvements.

"They spent quite a bit of money securing the front lobby so we could have 24-hour access," Cooper said.

Coping with the closing is going to create difficulties for Brice Ballard around the corner at Bull City Gun Shop.

"It's going to hurt us bad," he said.

They had been frequently sending and receiving guns via the post office.

But there's a catch.

Ballard said they have to fill out a special form allowing the gun to be shipped.

Now, he's not sure how it will work with a rural mail carrier, if they're even allowed to pick up a gun.

If he has to drop a gun off at a post office, it's going to make shipping cost-prohibitive.

Ballard isn't even sure if UPS is an alternative because of limits on how guns can be shipped.

While Hartzler considers it a huge loss, he said it won't destroy Alton -- despite the loss of jobs.

"We will survive, those of us that are around," he said. "We'll survive."