For Tim Smith, grabbing the mail at his Old Market business is about as easy at it gets — the postal carrier leaves it on his front counter.
That convenience is scheduled to end this summer for businesses in the Old Market, an area on track to become one of the first to lose door-to-door delivery as the U.S. Postal Service looks for ways to cut costs in Omaha.
Centralized mail delivery — which involves cluster boxes serving multiple businesses and homes — could become much more common in the Omaha area. Customers who already have that kind of delivery typically walk a block or less to pick up their mail instead of reaching out the front door or grabbing it from the mailbox at the curb.
The Postal Service is studying the possibility of ending door-to-door residential delivery in Omaha but does not have a schedule for when it might happen, Omaha Postmaster Keith Reid said. Reid has asked his managers to review which business districts and neighborhoods in the post office's service area — which includes Papillion and La Vista — would produce the biggest savings if delivery to the door were ended. Those managers must report back to him by the end of the month.
He emphasized that it has not been determined for certain that delivery to the door would end or which neighborhoods would be affected first if it did. The Postal Service would phase in changes, and they would not happen citywide at once.
Post offices across the country are looking for ways to trim costs because of the Postal Service's mounting financial problems.
“We are losing money hand over fist,'' Reid said. “We need to change how we do our business to stay in business.”
The U.S. Postal Service is projecting a loss of as much as $6 billion for the year. Last month, the agency backed down from its cost-cutting plan to eliminate Saturday mail delivery after Congress intervened.
Door-to-door delivery is expensive, Reid said. It costs $353 annually per household in cities, while centralized delivery costs less than half that — $161 per household, according to national figures from the Postal Service.
Reid will use the reports from the managers to help make decisions about door-to-door delivery. Once a plan is in place, neighborhoods and businesses would have opportunities to offer feedback.
Some newer Omaha-area subdivisions and business developments have had centralized delivery since they were built.
Spokesman Roger Humphries said the Omaha post office started shifting to centralized delivery for new developments in 1996, and it has become more common in the past five years.
But 85 percent of residences the Omaha post office serves still have delivery to the door or curb, as do 90 percent of businesses.
Centralized delivery saves money in a number of ways, he said. For example, fewer postal carriers and vehicles are needed. As mail delivery becomes more centralized, layoffs won't be necessary, he said, partly because carriers will retire.
So far, Humphries said, merchants in the Old Market, parts of the Benson business district and parts of Papillion have been notified that delivery to the door will end.
Reid, who met Tuesday with Old Market business owners, said he understands their frustration about the change and wants to make the switch as easy as possible for them. He said the Postal Service needs to save money and become more efficient, and the centralized delivery is an important step.
He said as many as five cluster boxes would be placed in the Old Market, with the goal that a business owner wouldn't have to walk more than a block to reach one.
The Postal Service will work with businesses to find the best places for the boxes. Each business will have its own locked mail compartment within the box.
Smith, who owns the Tea Smith shop in the Old Market, said he'll miss the convenience of delivery to the door. But he said he understands the financial problems that the Postal Service faces.
“Walking a block (to get mail) is not a big deal,” said Smith, whose shop sells loose leaf tea and accessories.
Jeff Jorgensen, co-owner of the Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, said he realizes that the Postal Service is struggling financially, but he's concerned about the centralized delivery.
He said either he or an employee will have to walk to get mail, which means less time working with customers and handling other tasks at the shop.
Ending delivery to the door essentially means that he'll be paying an employee to pick up the mail, Jorgensen said, and he thinks that is an unfair burden for the Postal Service to place on his business.
“It pushes their costs to me,'' he said.
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