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When Jocelyn Shay decided to end the rental lease for the Ono Post Office, it was a bittersweet moment for her.
Although the long-term business relationship with the United States Postal Service was her father’s legacy, she decided it was time to end the five-year rental agreement when it expired on Oct. 31, 2022.
Her decision to end the lease was multi-faceted.
She said working with the post office had become difficult due to onerous federal regulations and because she wanted to open a realty office at that location, which sits next to her residence.
There were multiple other complications as well.
Constant traffic. A blocked driveway two times a day for mail delivery. And, the two occasions when a delivery driver backed into the building, causing damage that cost her money to repair.
“My family had renovated that building and provided a post office to the town for over 40 years,” said Shay. “We rented it to the postal service, through thick and thin, but there are a lot of federal regulations that go along with that. There were some other things that they weren’t picking up on their end and it wasn’t worth it to me anymore to continue the rental agreement.”
Two weeks before the lease was set to expire, Ono residents received a letter dated Oct. 13 from Paige Zimmerman, manager of Post Office Operations. The letter said that, “due to lease termination by the landlord, it will be necessary to suspend all services at the Ono Post Office at the close of business on Thursday, October, 27, 2022.”
That letter, coupled with what occurred before it was sent and after it was received, have left Shay upset.
“I was pretty upset by it, I am not going to lie,” said Shay, who feels the post office has made her the villain in this matter. “I gave a year’s notice that I intended not to renew the lease at the time of the lease’s expiration in the hopes that it would be plenty of notice and that they would figure something out.”
The letter also notifies residents that “no final decision to permanently discontinue the Post Office has been made” and continues by noting that “a community meeting will be held later near the Ono Post Office to explain our plans and solicit your comments concerning possible alternate means of providing postal and other services.”
Five months after the letter was received, residents have not been notified of an upcoming community meeting to gather comments nor if the postal service has reached an official decision concerning future operations in Ono.
Asked to submit questions via email concerning these issues, LebTown received a two-sentence reply from Mark Lawrence, strategic communications specialist for USPS, Atlantic Area – Upstate New York, Central & Western Pennsylvania.
The reply reads: “All alternatives for a replacement facility are being evaluated. The official community contact process will begin within the next 30 days.”
After requesting in a follow-up email the definition of “community contact process,” Lawrence told LebTown the postal service has no further comment at this time. The USPS’s website, however, defines “community contact process” as the term used for an official notice period preceding the closure of a branch.
When she notified postal officials about the lease termination, Shay said she attempted to work with personnel in the postal service’s real estate division to help them find a new location. She is, after all, a real estate agent, so it makes sense for her to offer her expertise.
She told them the Ono Fire Company’s social hall is the perfect site to open a new post office branch to serve the town’s approximate 20 homes and those Fort Indiantown Gap residents who had rented boxes at the Ono location, which contained around 125 to 150 post office boxes, according to Shay.
“I gave them options for buildings in the neighborhood, including the Ono Fire Company,” said Shay. “I had contacted the fire chief and he thought it was a wonderful idea. There’s an extra building next door to the company that’s not used 100 percent. They (fire company members) were willing to renovate to code, even if the post office only wanted to lease a portion of it.”
Shay says she sees that particular scenario as a win-win for the community and USPS – even though her suggestion was met with indifference by postal officials.
“It would put real money into the local fire company’s pockets,” said Shay. “That just seemed to make sense to me. I mentioned this to them because I care about the community and wasn’t trying to inconvenience anyone.”
The USPS letter also informed Ono residents that they must pick-up their mail at the Jonestown branch, located 3.5 miles from Ono in the 200 block of South Lancaster Street.
Ed Anspach, who believes Shay has been villainized by the USPS, said traveling to Jonestown to get the mail for his Ono-based used car business is a major inconvenience. Anspach noted that he understands that her decision was business-based and he holds no ill feelings towards Shay for doing what’s best for her business.
“I quit making the trip every day of the week because I have to close my business to go to Jonestown since their hours are not consumer-friendly,” said Anspach. “They are open from 8 until 4, so getting your mail there is an inconvenience. It’s an inconvenience for anyone who works a day job.”
Closing his office creates a dilemma for Anspach since his business relies heavily on receiving time-sensitive documents tied to automobile sales. But when he’s closed, he can’t make any sales.
“I have to take time off work to buy stamps, mail a package or pick-up sensitive mail like car titles from PennDOT and other documents that are a part of doing business,” said Anspach, who added that he loses 30 to 45 minutes each time he closes to go retrieve his mail. “As a business owner, I need (delivery) consistency. They make it very difficult to do business with them.”
It frustrates Shay and Anspach that rural mail delivery closely abuts Ono on either end of town for residents with Annville and Jonestown postal addresses. In Anspach’s case, mail delivery from Jonestown is about one-tenth of a mile away from his property line while delivery is four houses from Shay’s properties.
“They are making mail deliveries to other people within a block of my location, but they haven’t offered to deliver the mail – even after I made an offer to put out a mailbox,” noted Anspach, who added the mail carrier drives the delivery vehicle onto Lincoln School Road, which sits catty-corner to his property. “They don’t have to invent something new. There’s a truck, there’s a mailbox and if I put out a mailbox, why wouldn’t you deliver to me? I can step out my door and see that box a quarter-block – two houses – away from me.”
“Ono is only 20 houses and mail trucks come to either side of town,” says Shay. “For some reason, the U.S. Postal Service is not closing this gap, and I really don’t know why. Annville or Jonestown could pick up this route, which makes the most sense to me.”
Further aggravating Shay and Anspach is the requirement to pay for a post office box at Jonestown. Although they did pay for a box in Ono per postal regulations, neither believes that rule is applicable now that mail delivery has been moved elsewhere.
“We’re being bamboozled for paying for our mail, paying to be inconvenienced,” said Shay. “I thought it was a choice to get a postal box, but we were never given a choice.”
Contacted for comment, Lawrence replied “We are currently investigating the status of PO boxes in Ono.”
It would appear that Ono residents should not be charged for their boxes, based on content on USPS’s website and elsewhere. On the USPS website, an FAQ page notes “A PO Box may be available for no fee, in specific situations, for those who are not eligible for home delivery.”
On the website of the Office of Inspector General, United States Postal Service, a page dedicated to the findings of a November 2018 audit states, “The Postal Service offers no-fee post office (PO) box service to customers who do not receive any form of carrier delivery.”
And just last month, LancasterOnline first reported (paywall link) a similar issue in Brownstown, with Lawrence quoted as saying the postal service was aware and addressing it there. WGAL 8 has also covered the story.
The story says Lawrence also told Lancaster Newspapers that anyone who is not eligible for home mail delivery service is provided a free Group E post office box that is “consistent with the USPS responsibility to provide universal mail delivery.”
Meanwhile, both Shay and Anspach had to renew their post office boxes at the end of February if they wanted to receive their mail. Shay said she refused to pay at first, but on March 1 a lock had been placed on her box prohibiting her from gathering her mail.
Not only is picking up her mail now burdensome, but also an unpleasant experience.
“When they moved out, the letter said it was the landlord’s fault and everyone knows who the landlord is, so people started taking to social media, saying things about me,” said Shay. “It feels awkward to go get my mail now.”
In recent days, the matter has only gotten worse. Someone recently posted a cartoon lampooning her on every telephone pole in Ono, including one in front of her residence.
Concerning yet another matter related to Ono’s closing, Anspach believes he’s being slighted when he requested and was denied the opportunity to use the post office’s Informed Delivery service, which allows customers to see free photos of their mail before it arrives in their postal box.
“In civilized parts of the world, you can go onto USPS.com and they will tell you if you have any mail to be picked up,” said Anspach. “Now, they advertise that on TV, they advertise that on their website, they are handing out brochures at Jonestown, but when I inquired I was told, ‘No, we don’t do that for Ono.’”
LebTown contacted U.S. Congressman Dan Meuser, whose legislative district includes Ono, to ask questions concerning these federal issues.
Sue Henry, Meuser’s director of communications, said she reached out to Lawrence on Feb. 28 after speaking with LebTown and did receive an initial reply from him noting her email was being forwarded to local customer relations.
However, no one from USPS has contacted Meuser’s office as of publication. Without having a discussion first with USPS officials, Henry’s only comment for this story was that they are aware of the issue and are looking into it.
What comes next in this ongoing saga is anybody’s guess.
For Anspach, he believes the days of postal delivery in Ono may never return.
“I don’t expect we’ll ever see a post office in Ono again,” says Anspach. “But, there are so many simple things they could do. Put out a bank of mailboxes where I could walk to get my mail or deliver like they do for my neighbor two doors down. Or, put me on Informed Delivery for Jonestown so I don’t drive there to pick up two pieces of junk mail.”
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