Signed, sealed, delivered

Main Street’s mailman Phil LeBlanc retires after 31 years

Lake Placid postal carrier Phil LeBlanc shows off his 2020 Best of the Mountains award along his Main Street route this past summer. (News photo — Carol Swirsky)

LAKE PLACID — Stability can be hard to find these days.

On Lake Placid’s Main Street, businesses come and go. Signs are put up and torn down. Residents move into apartments and move out of them, tourists arrive and depart. The street changes in small ways all the time. New parking meters, a new barista hired at a coffee shop, new books in the window of The Bookstore Plus.

But for the past three decades, one thing has remained the same. Phil LeBlanc has served as Main Street’s mailman for 31 years. Each morning, as the landscape changed around him, LeBlanc has left the U.S. Post Office on Main Street and delivered letters and packages to more than 753 stops in the village’s business district, plus Saranac Avenue, Elm Street, Victor Herbert Road and the Signal Hill neighborhood.

In ways big and small, LeBlanc has facilitated connections between people and businesses for years. This week, LeBlanc ran his final route. He retired on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Over the years, LeBlanc has delivered some weird stuff.

Lake Placid postal carrier Phil LeBlanc wears shorts while it snows on Tuesday, Oct. 27. He is retiring on Oct. 29 after 31 years on the job. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“Without giving any names to individuals or organizations, let’s just say it was a package sent from a very long distance and had something that’s very perishable in it,” he said. “Let’s just say that upon lifting this package, it was pretty ripe.”

He’s also been able to deliver moments that make big differences in residents’ lives.

“I think probably one of the nice things that you learn after doing the same route for so many years is you become associated with families,” he said. “You see their children grow up. You see them go to college, enter the military.

“When children are looking to go to college, of course you see all the mailings go out for all the colleges that they’ve applied to. A lot of them will say, ‘Oh, I’m excited, my number one choice is this college.’ And you can tell, in the mail, if it’s just a single letter then it’s probably a rejection letter. But if it’s a bigger packet, for housing and dining options … that was one of the parts that was the most rewarding to me. To be able to know that’s coming and get that to the person in a more personal way.”

The informal USPS motto, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” has rung true throughout LeBlanc’s career.

Twenty-two years ago, when the North Country was ravaged by the Ice Storm of January 1998, LeBlanc still reported for duty. This year, when the coronavirus pandemic derailed life as we knew it, LeBlanc still delivered the mail — and for some, provided an even greater service.

“There was an elderly customer on my route. I think she found solitude in talking to me each day,” he said. “Just to say, ‘What’s going on? Is this really happening?’ You try to calm her, because I don’t think she had anybody and she looked forward to that interaction.”

Over the years, the nature of his job has changed. With the gradual rise of the internet, e-commerce and automation, LeBlanc has found himself delivering fewer letters, spending less time sorting mail and delivering more packages.

LeBlanc’s advice for people just starting out with the USPS: The job has changed. Be prepared.

“The job has changed quite a bit since the late ’80s to today. The onslaught of ordering through the mail is incredible. We’re finding that instead of handling 3,000 letters per day, you’re handling 200 packages, so you’re almost becoming like the UPS guy, or FedEx delivery guy,” he said. “I think that the automation that has taken place in the postal service … like I said, before, we used to spend many hours in the office sorting mail. Now it’s computer generated. We’re basically the carry mule to go out there. I’m thinking for them, they’re going to be finding a lot more time out of the office than inside. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. In the wintertime, it’s not so nice. But on a beautiful spring, summer day … hey, who wouldn’t want to be on the street for six, seven hours?

“And pretty much you’re your own boss.”

For LeBlanc, being a postal carrier has brought so much joy into his life. He’s been able to participate in outreach on behalf of the USPS, doing events like reading books at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid and going to local schools to give students a chance to look inside his delivery vehicle.

“I remember a couple of years ago I went and read ‘The Jolly Postman’ to kindergarteners, which was fun,” he said.

LeBlanc, a Fort Covington native, moved to the area after graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh with a political science degree. He made the move after a friend of his encouraged him to visit Lake Placid for the summer, but once he came, his visits got longer and longer.

LeBlanc got a job in the hotel industry and stayed for several years. He eventually decided he wanted a long-term career, and decided to apply for jobs with U.S. Customs and Border Control and the United States Postal Service. Much to his surprise, he got callbacks for both within a week of one another — and only decided to go with the postal service because it wouldn’t require him to leave the area for training.

“I had recently gotten married, I had a young family, so I wasn’t going to move out of the area,” he said.

Now, LeBlanc lives in Saranac Lake with his wife. They’ve raised three sons together, with continued support from the Lake Placid community.

Customers are quick to recognize his years of service, naming him the No. 1 postal carrier in the Tri-Lakes region for the 2020 Best of the Mountains awards sponsored by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News.

Consistency isn’t easy, nor is it easy to stay in one position for a long time. Asked what kept him going through the years, LeBlanc pointed to the people of Lake Placid.

“With any job, of course, being a letter carrier is very repetitive in nature,” he said. “I think it’s connecting to your customer. Trying to give them the best service you can give them without burning yourself out. I never really had any real down moments with it, I always enjoyed my job. It’s just time for the next chapter.”

Speaking with the News two days before he would make his final rounds, LeBlanc had one last message to deliver to his customers:

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve you.”