USPS adjusts after 4 local post offices suspend package, window services

On Sunday, Dec. 20 two postal workers from the Watertown area handle holiday packages on the Saranac Lake Post Office loading dock. The packages were driven over from the Ray Brook Post Office, which suspended package pick-up due to a COVID-19-related staff shortage on Monday, Dec. 21. (News photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Post offices in Ray Brook, Bloomingdale, Rainbow Lake and Paul Smiths suspended window, retail and package pick-up services Monday, Dec. 21 due to limited staffing brought on by recent positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines; but the postal service is marshalling resources and employees to fulfill holiday mailing needs at alternate locations.

Maureen Marion, a communications director for the United States Postal Service’s Albany district, said three employees at the Saranac Lake Post Office tested positive — one on Dec. 11 and then one each on Dec. 18 and 19. Saranac Lake is the supplying pipeline for the surrounding area’s post offices.

“The Saranac Lake hub really impacted the feeder stream in this case,” Marion said.

She said there are no positive cases at the Ray Brook, Bloomingdale, Rainbow Lake or Paul Smiths offices, but because of contacts with employees from the Saranac Lake hub office, staff at these four locations are quarantining until Jan. 4 at the earliest. Marion said these offices already have very small staff numbers.

Customers using the Ray Brook, Bloomingdale, Rainbow Lake or Paul Smiths post offices can still pick up mail that fits in their lockbox — letters and small packages.

“Say you bought your sweetheart a little candy cane, that will fit in your post office box,” Marion said. “But if you bought her a quilt, we’re going to take it down the road to the next office over.”

Large package pickups and window service — purchasing stamps and boxes — can be done at alternate office locations.

Over the weekend, postal workers from around the North Country pulled together resources to move packages sitting in the Ray Brook, Bloomingdale, Rainbow Lake and Paul Smiths offices to their respective alternate locations in time for the start of business today.

“We’re doing leaps and bounds,” Northern Tier Operations Manager Sharon Larkin said. “We’re going to take good care of the community up here.”

These four alternate post offices — Saranac Lake, Vermontville, Gabriels and Lake Clear — will have expanded operating hours.

“Oversized packages or signature required articles will be available for pick up at these locations, as directed by notices that will be left in the customer’s post office box. No change of address or forwarding service by the customer or the mailer will be required,” a USPS press release reads. “Postal officials request that customers be prepared to show identification for pickup of mail in these locations.”

Marion said the four impacted locations will still be open, only for letter mail and small packages, until at least the first Monday of the new year, Jan, 4. She said this could change, lasting longer, depending on when employees are medically released.

Alternate locations

Large package pickups and window service — purchasing stamps and boxes — can be done at the alternate office locations listed below.

Customers from Bloomingdale with oversized packages will be directed to Vermontville’s Post Office — 6 Cold Brook Road.

Customers in Rainbow Lake will be directed to the Gabriels Post Office — 846 State Route 86.

Customers in Paul Smiths will be directed to the Lake Clear Post Office — 6379 State Route 30.

These three post offices will expand their hours to accommodate seasonal packages and to provide other postal retail service needs, operating from 8 a.m. to noon and from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. until Jan. 4, 2021.

Customers in Ray Brook, 12977, will be directed to the Saranac Lake Post Office — 51 Broadway. This post office will continue its regular operating hours on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Keene Post Office, 2841 State Route 73, continues to provide post office box mail service and distribution of oversize packages on site.

However, no retail or window services are currently available due to employee availability within the region due to COVID-19. Mail services to the postal unit in Keene Valley continues without interruption, postal officials added.

Holiday history

Marion says this holiday package delivery season will be “one for the history books.” The postal service has already had a busy year. It’s been operating at a “December-volume of packages” since St. Patrick’s Day, she said, due to the coronavirus shifting lots of shopping to online and delivery.

“We were already operating at capacity,” Marion said.

On top of this, the holiday season has added even more packages, the weather has not always been cooperative and the USPS has been experiencing staffing shortages all over. Marion said 359 postal workers in New York were testing positive for the virus as of Friday.

She said this may mean possible delays in deliveries at times.

“We don’t have enough transportation, we don’t have enough trucks and we don’t have enough people,” Marion said. “This is going to be a year where the holidays are going to keep giving and giving. You are going to see the mail coming in for a bit.”

She gave a lot of credit to the postal workers who are working harder than ever this year to make a Christmas during coronavirus happen, as well thanking customers.

“We so appreciate the patience of our customers, who I hope understand we are not immune to the same pressures the community has seen as well,” Marion said.