HIGHGATE SPRINGS, VT. - Martin's General Store and the local post office are housed in the same building on the east side of U.S. 7, a few miles south of the Canadian border. This is downtown Highgate Springs. Should the U.S Postal Service's plan to shutter 15 post offices in Vermont go forward, half of the small town's commercial district would close.
Behind the counter of Martin's General Store, Mindy Gagner worked the phones, rallying friends and neighbors to come down to the general store for an impromptu meeting to share concerns about the post office's possible closure. The general store and the post office create "the hub of the town," she said.
Mindy, who owns the general store with her husband, Gilbert, remembers when she first heard the news the post office could be closing. "I couldn't believe it," she said. If the post office closed, she said, "It would be huge. It would be awful. It will rip the town apart. Nobody wants to see that happen."
"So that's why we are all rallying together, to figure out what we should do," Mindy said. "This little town may be small, but we're not the kind of town to stand around and do nothing."
Gilbert Gagner, 43, said this isn't the first time the post office has been on the chopping block. "It's been mentioned before," he said. "But not to this extent. Now, I'm nervous."
"This is small town America trying to survive," he said.
3,600 Post Offices
Highgate Springs is one of the 15 Vermont post offices slated for closure as part of a misguided plan to close more than 3,600 post offices throughout the country. Sen. Bernie Sanders said the U.S. Postal Service needs to address its finances, but not by placing the full burden of cost-cutting on small towns throughout the country.
"Post offices in a rural state like Vermont are not just post offices - they are often the heart and soul of the town - and they must not be closed down," Sanders wrote in a letter that he, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch sent to the Postal Service commissioners. "Many of these post offices have been in continuous operation for over 100 years and are an essential part of the fabric of Vermont's rural landscape."
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is also working to ensure rural communities aren't left without their post offices. "The fact is, maintaining our nation's rural post offices costs the Postal Service less than 1 percent of its total budget and is not the cause of its financial crisis," Collins told USA TODAY.
"An Important Place"
The Highgate Springs post office has been located in town since February 1865, according to a plaque posted inside the branch. A chorus of people leaving the post office and the general store said that if it closed, the town would not be the same.
Claudia Mahoney, 53, said losing the post office would further isolate the small town. "It's kind of the center of town for Highgate Springs. We would hate to have this gone," she said.
Once the post office came up during conversations last week in Martin's General Store, a stream of people came forward to volunteer their thoughts. "It's not just important for mail, but for community conversation," said Muriel Codrington, 66. "It's an important place. My family has had a post office box there since the early 30s."
Hal Campbell, 62, said if the post office shuttered the Highgate Springs location, he would have to make a 20-minute round trip drive to the next post office, using more gas and adding a major inconvenience to his life. "Our family has used this post office since 1958," he said.
"It's our community center," said Pixley Tyler Hill, a co-owner of the Tyler Place Family Resort, located across the street. "We really rely on it."
The post office helps drive a healthy slice of the small town's economy.
Aside from local residents, the post office draws a number of Canadian businesses that rely on mail shipments from U.S. manufacturers. Daniel Paquette from Bromont, Quebec runs Parachutisme NouvelAir. He filled up with $42 worth of gas after making a quick stop in town during a recent visit to pick up mail. "It's very convenient for us to come here and just pick it up," Paquette said.
"They bring in the dollars. They buy gas. They buy groceries," Hill said of the Canadians.
Senator Sanders referred to a provision in federal law that says the Postal Service "shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining." The law also states, "No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities."
Michael Roach, 72, who inherited his post office box from his parents decades ago, voices many of the concerns of the Highgate Springs community should the post office close, "The question is: where would we go? What kind of service would we get?"
To see the list of Vermont post offices that could be closed, click here.