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Village Post Office program finds a home in Cowanshannock-area

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
TIM KARAN I LEADER TIMES Retail specialist Anita Riggs, Kittanning Postmaster Rafe Magagnotti, store manager Kayla Thompson, store owner Ron Thompson, District Retail Manager Karen Scott and Regional Manager of Post office Opertions Larry McClain cut the ribbon to open the postal facility at the store at the Silver Canoe Campground on Tuesday.

Kayla Thompson knew already it wasn't all that easy for Cowanshannock-area residents to get to a nearby post office – and that was before the Postal Service announced it would be drastically cutting hours at most small post offices including nearby Sagamore.

Thompson, store manager at the Silver Canoe Campground, owned by her family along Route 210, said she came up with a way to help after hearing about the closings in the news.

“When we heard the Sagamore post office is only going to be open two hours per day, we looked into what we could do,” Thompson said.

“That's when we heard about the (USPS) Village Post Office program.”

Established in 2011, Village Post Office locations are set up in pre-existing stores to allow non-postal employees to sell stamps and mail flat rate Priority packages.

On Tuesday, the 201st Village Post Office was opened inside the store at Silver Canoe Campground.

In addition to offering basic postal supplies, the location also now has a blue drop-off box outside.

“This will be great for the local person down the street who needs to send an electrical bill or a package but can't find any open post offices,” Thompson said. “We can't weigh packages yet and we can't do certified letters and things like that. But we can do all the main little things you always need.”

Karen Scott, retail manager for the USPS Western Pennsylvania district, said that's one reason Village Post Offices like this will be sprouting up more and more across the region.

“We have to cut some hours at smaller offices but don't want to take opportunities away from our customers,” she said. “So, recently, this concept came up as a way to still keep the (USPS) identity and offer those additional services – like the ability to send Priority packages — at local businesses.”

The first location opened in August 2011, and the Cowanshannock already is number 201.

“This is our third one in the district,” said Scott. “And we have three more in the process of getting a scheduled open date. I think people will be seeing more and more of these.”

Kittanning postmaster Rafe Magagnotti said that with hours anticipated to be cut at many local post offices by June 2014, the new location at Silver Canoe will save many residents a long trip just to buy stamps or send a small package.

“Rural Valley would be the closest full-time post office in the area,” he said. “This (Village Post Office) will give people more of a chance to get services throughout the day as compared to only between 9 and 11 a.m. each day at the Sagamore office.”

Larry McClain, manager of post office operations for area codes beginning with 160, 161 and 162, said the times and technology are changing all too rapidly.

“We realize that sending letters is in decline because of email, smartphones and online bill payment options,” said McClain. “(The USPS) is losing $25 million a day but we still have to deliver to every house.”

McClain said the one aspect of the business that's growing is in package delivery.

“Parcels – or Priority Mail – are the only thing growing in our business right now,” he said. “That's our growth product and what we're trying to establish ourselves with.”

That's part of the reason Priority Mail boxes will be a big part of Village Post Offices. But to Thompson, the decision is win-win: Her store receives the additional income and her customers receive an alternative way to continue using the post office.

“We think it'll help a lot of people,” said Thompson. “And we're excited to get started.”

The Silver Canoe Campground store is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday (6 a.m. to 8 p.m. during summer) and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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