Post office move felt Merchants say loss of downtown facility hurts their business

'We are very stressed'

Shoppers also ask, 'Brother, can you spare a stamp?'

September 30, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The departure of the U.S. Postal Service from downtown Westminster has left several shops along Main Street in the lurch, suffering from a sharp drop in foot traffic.

Some shop owners said yesterday that they have seen business fall by at least 30 percent since the post office closed last month. The former post office at 83 E. Main St. was a downtown institution for more than 60 years.

"I had regular customers who would go to the post office and then come down to my store," said Judith Nave, owner of Forget-Me-Not, a card shop less than a block from the brick building that housed the former post office. "But since the post office closed, I haven't seen them."

Nave is not alone in missing the downtown post office, after a $2.7 million replacement facility opened July 20 in Englar Business Park.

At Monday's Common Council meeting, two members of the Westminster Business Association expressed concern about the dwindling number of pedestrians along Main Street.

"We are very stressed by it," Patty Keener, owner of Locust Antiques at 10 E. Main St., told the mayor and council. "It used to be that people would mail their packages or letters from the post office and then shop in the area -- get coffee or buy bagels. We're not seeing that anymore.

"A downtown post office presence is badly needed," Keener said. "We, the members of the business association, would support anything that would help make that happen."

Keener, who attended the council meeting with association President Sandy Scott, offered to circulate a petition among shopkeepers to show support for a downtown retail postal outlet.

Officials first sought proposals in December to operate a retail service on a contract basis. Three bids were received, but all were too high, postal officials said.

Postal officials sought bids again -- twice. But no agreement has been reached. It was not clear yesterday whether they would seek bids again. Postal officials could not be reached for comment.

"The complaint I hear most often is that there's nowhere to buy a stamp downtown anymore," said Nave. "People will buy a card and then ask, 'Will you get me a stamp?' or 'Can I buy a stamp from you?' I've been buying extra stamps just to have some to sell to my customers."

As merchants fret over the absence of a downtown post office, postal officials are moving forward with plans to sell the recently vacated Main Street property.

Walter L. Patton, who owns two buildings in the Baltimore area -- a truck terminal with a small shop in Jessup and an office and warehouse complex in Elkridge -- has a contract with the U.S. Postal Service for the property. He is interviewing possible tenants.

The structure has been listed since July with David L. Goldbloom, vice president of Erwin L. Greenberg Commercial Corp., a Baltimore brokerage firm.

Westminster officials and local merchants said yesterday that they would be pleased to see stores or offices in the building.

"I'd be happy just to see people working in the building again," said Nave. "Some of my best customers were postal employees."

Said R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of Greater Westminster Development Corp.: "It goes without saying that [the postal] operation is greatly missed. A post office is a destination business, meaning that people seek services there and then explore other businesses in the area." Mathias, who heads a committee working to secure a postal presence downtown, said he and city leaders are hoping postal officials restart the bidding process for a contract service.

The old post office, completed in 1934, was among four properties listed as key to a healthy downtown in a consultants' report to the city in 1994. The other three sites -- the firehouse, old J. C. Penney building and Farmers Supply Co. building -- have been or are being redeveloped.

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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