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Lake George post office on list for possible closure or conversion

Lake George postmaster Iris Olson is taking a wait-and-see approach as federal postal officials determine the fate of her facility. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The quaint Lake George post office, the town's most identifiable landmark, is one of 88 Minnesota Postal Services outlets targeted to close or be converted to a "village outlet."

The U.S. Postal Service has been looking at operations of 3,700 outlets nationally and Tuesday announced numerous facilities that need further scrutiny for possible closure or conversion.

"These offices that are on the list are essentially the least utilized offices in the country based on the number of post office boxes rented, the number of visits, the type of revenue that's generated, things like that," said Pete Nowacki, Postal Services spokesman based in Minneapolis.

"I'm on the list, not necessarily for closure but for feasibility studies to see if there's a more economical way that postal services can be provided in Lake George and the surrounding area," longtime postmaster Iris Olson said.

The post office with 110 boxes was established in Lake George in 1936, she said. She's been at the helm for 15 years.

It is a blow to a small community experiencing a commercial revival and the announcement couldn't have been timed worse. The town's annual Blueberry Festival started Friday and continues through the weekend.

Thousands of people flock to the small village where a regular tourist custom takes place - visitors posing in front of the post office and buying memorabilia.

But the weekend festival could also be used to start a petition drive to save the postal facility, especially when the town's population grows ten-fold, suggested some merchants.

The Lake George outlet is the only one in the Hubbard County region to be targeted for closure.

The Ponsford post office is also scheduled to close or undergo a conversion.

Post offices have been replaced by automated stations, online services and Smart Phone applications.

"We get 35 percent of our retail revenue from sources other than people walking in to a post office nowadays," Nowacki said.

Olson said there are three options for Lake George other than maintaining the status quo.

A relatively new concept called a Village Postal Service may be an option, Olson said, locating services in an existing business.

But Olson said she's not sure any Lake George business would want to assume the postal services, especially since some have already weighed in to keep things as they are.

The mail service could go to a rural delivery system, or it could have an automated postal center with either rural or cluster boxes, Olson speculated.

But a large part of the decision to close or convert takes public opinion into consideration, Olson said. And she said Lake George residents have a tendency to be quite vocal in their opinions.

"A lot of people are mentioning it," she acknowledged. "They're concerned and interested in what's going on."

Olson said the national move is called "right-sizing."

Some of the criteria used to determine the post office's future will be the town's population (383 according to the 2010 Census), the retail climate and the feasibility of rural delivery.

The post office once was considered the smallest in the state, possibly the nation, but likely doesn't claim that distinction any more. Olson said.

"We take a look at the community and how it serves the community, how people use it, we do gather input from people," Nowacki said of the evaluation process.

"All the customers served by that office are surveyed, we hold a public meeting and we also take a look at factors like how close is this office to another post office or to another source of postal services, what do we need to do to continue to provide service.

"If it isn't served by a carrier and we would have to put a carrier route in there. What's the cost of that going to be? Does it make fiscal sense to do it as well?" Nowacki asked.

"We can't close the post office strictly because it isn't making money," he added. "However, the revenue and expenses are factors that enter into the overall decision."

"The people of Lake George will continue to receive mail and be able to buy postal products," Olson said.

And she said she's been assured if worst comes to worst, she likely won't lose her job.

"Just because my office is gone doesn't mean my career with the Postal Service is over," she said.

But if visitors attending the Blueberry Festival are allowed to weigh in, expect an anti-oxidant groundswell from the little town that refused to sing the blues.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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