Like many organizations, CarseatBlog has a PO Box.  This box was located at the “old” post office in my town.  Conveniently located, I had the box there for 5 years or so and have been going to the quaint downtown location my whole life to use post office services.  The people that worked there were always friendly, the service was very good and the lines were never as long as in the main post office.  Earlier this year, the old building was sold.  We were told that the post office would lease part of the old location to retain some services there, including PO Boxes.  So, there would be no long term effect on box owners.  During the renovation, boxes would be moved temporarily to the newer main post office in town.  No big deal, right?  Sure, it’s quite a bit farther, but I don’t need to check it more than every week or two.  They gave me a key to a box at the main location where an existing box had a decal with my number placed upon it, as did all the others from the old location.

So, I made a bi-weekly trek to check my box last month.  Inside was a “greeting” note.  It informed me that my P.O. Box was affected by the move back to the renovated old location.  Due to the smaller area and configuration in the renovated facility, it would no longer be available.   You’ve probably seen recent news stories about the postal service debt crisis and the potential for future reductions in workforce and locations.  I’m apparently one of the first downsizing victims. 

Okay, so they had to know they were going to screw a number of box owners all along, but still, no big deal.  I’ll just keep the current arrangement at the new post office, right?  After all, in this economy, you want to keep your small business customers.  Not only do we buy PO Boxes, but we ship stuff (like carseats, contest prizes and such) when we come to check the box, as I often do.  Well, apparently, not only is my physical box disappearing, but my box number is being discontinued, too!  That’s right, it’s like I’m being forced to move: address change, new business cards, hassle of updating information everywhere, etc, etc.

Of course, I tried to reason with them.  But, this is the post office.  Much like the phone company, the post office doesn’t work quite like other businesses when it comes to customers.  The supervisor was sympathetic, but after a long discussion, there was absolutely no way they could let me keep my box number, at any location.  My only options were to select among the available box numbers at the old or new post office, or simply have my mail forwarded to another address.

Of course, I asked the first obvious question:  Why can’t I keep the current arrangement here?  Clearly there are boxes at the new post office.  I have one right now!  It has my number taped on it.  Can’t I just keep going like that?  Nope.  For amazingly bizarre reasons that I could not understand, the temporary setup could not be made permanent.  It’s been working perfectly for half a year, but it can’t possibly be made to work that way any longer.  Fortunately, I could opt to choose from a number of other boxes available at the new location or the old location.  I was even shown a list of maybe 40 available box numbers of the same size at the old location.  As a bonus, I could pick one with a similar number.  Some were available just a few below my number, some just above.

Okay, so this begs the second obvious question.  There’s not enough physical space to keep my old box or number, yet there are dozens of boxes available of the same size at the same location with very similar numbers?  Why not just take box 457 that appeared on the list and put a damn 461 sticker on it?  Nope.  Sorry.  That’s not how the system works.  The new boxes are configured differently and that’s just how it will be.  Apparently, they were configured in a manner to cause the most hassle possible to current customers!

Okay, so logic was useless.  I had to accept my fate.  In the grand scheme of things, a minor nuisance.  If that was the worst thing to happen to me, it was still a great day, right?  Right.  Making lemons out of lemonade, I could probably use a bigger box now, anyway.  My business cards could use an update to a newer business phone number, too.  Plus, when given the various options, it was mentioned that there is probably a rate change coming in a month.  By paying for a year now, I could lock in the current rate.  While they seemed to encourage me to wait to make the choice until the remodeled facility was open in about a month, I could clearly see the possibility of a hundred or more people who lost their boxes snapping up the few dozen unused ones that mysteriously were not eliminated.  That could leave me with the worst of both worlds:  a new box number at the more distant location.

So, what the heck.  Think positive.  I’m here, let’s get it done.  There was a box in the next higher size that was only off by one digit, so I could have 401 instead of 461.  I’ll just take that and avoid having to make another trip.  Right?  Of course, there was paperwork.  And another wait for my number to be called to the counter again.  After 15 minutes at the counter, it was ultimately determined that they could not accept a credit or debit card because of a computer issue.  Unless I happened to be carrying a checkbook, I’d have to make another trip anyway.  Swell.

I can use Fedex and UPS for shipping.  Their rates for ground service are often lower, especially with online tracking and up to $100 of insurance.  It’s too bad they don’t have reasonably priced boxes.  Of course, I checked as soon as I got home.  The ones at the nearby UPS store are $102 for three months, vs. $31 for six months at the post office for the same size box.  I’m getting a larger USPS box for $96 a year, or one quarter of the fee for a smaller box at the UPS store.  The moral of the story?  I’ll just be happy with what I’ve got (but retain the right to complain about it).  After all, with all the cuts that may be coming at the post office, the great people that help you at the counters and sort the mail into your box have a lot more to complain about. 

Anyway, I went back with a check to make my payment a couple hours later.  On the way, I was thinking that any other business would have offered me a discount or something for losing my box, for incurring costs to change and for all the hassle I encountered, just to keep me as a happy, paying customer.  Even the biggest businesses do this sort of thing.  For example, today I learned I would have to pay $135 to change just the box number for my address registered with another federal agency (Copyright office) for something I originally filed barely over 6 months ago.   I guess the post office is too rigid, perhaps part of their greater  problem retaining customers.  At least I was told I could skip the line and talk directly with the supervisor when I returned with the check, so that was something!  Of course, when I arrived, I was told the supervisor was out to lunch.  Back in line, sir.

After I dropped off the check, they did give me a call a few days later.  Not to thank me for remaining a customer or to apologize for removing my PO Box or to offer me a discount or a reimbursement for my expenses.  It was to ask that I make yet another trip to the main post office and give them $6 more.  Apparently, they forgot to charge me for the keys.

Do you wonder why people go postal?