Inside a grad student's apartment at the University of Pennsylvania sits a slightly faded blue-and-white wooden sign from a post office in Malone, Wash., that no longer exists.
If this were any other college student's place, the sign would probably be a trophy from some kind of prank. But no: it was a gift from the post office to 25-year-old Evan Kalish, a UPenn graduate student who has crisscrossed the Northeast, driven down South and flown to Hawaii to see more than 2,700 post offices, many of which are in danger of closing or have already been shuttered.
Over the past three years, he's documented the slow death of an institution that was once at the heart of small-town America, taking photos, collecting postal cards, paying tribute. Many of the postal buildings are historic, some marking the establishment of a community in a growing nation or the revival of one after a disaster. "The post office helped build the country," Kalish says. "And it's almost like they're trying to destroy themselves."
The Malone post office is the only landmark listed if you search for the town on Google Maps. But it closed down Aug. 9. The next day, across the street, Red's Hop N' Market began providing limited postal services - selling stamps and fixed-rate shipping boxes alongside live worms, cigarettes and beef jerky. It became the first "Village Post Office" in the country and part of a strategy that the postal service is counting on to help close a massive budget gap.