Charlie King remembers when mail was delivered twice a day. That was half a century ago, back in the era of three-cent stamps, back when handwritten letters outnumbered junk mail.
But times have changed and the U.S. Postal Service — tagged “snail mail” by many — is considering doing away with Saturday mail delivery.
King, who lives in Absarokee, is not alarmed.
“I could live without it,” he said.
King’s ambivalence seems the majority opinion. In fact, the postal service’s proposal, which drew media attention earlier this year, seems a “non-issue” for all but a few.
Wilma Shupak, also of Absarokee, is one of the handful who depend on Saturday mail service. Shupak, who sells used books through a link on Amazon, frequently heads to the post office on Saturday morning. It’s important to her to ship her orders in a timely manner.
“I try to have my books sent within one or two days,” she said. “That was my deal with Amazon when I signed on.”
Shupak was worried that the elimination of Saturday service could prevent her from keeping up her end of the deal. But when Absarokee Postmaster Rhonda Gallagher explained the details, that the change would only affect Saturday carrier service and not current Saturday hours or deliveries to post office boxes, Shupak was relieved.
“That’s good news for me,” Shupak said.
As it stands, the postal service is required by law to deliver to roughly 150 million addresses six days a week. But mail volume has been dropping — down 6.3 percent over the six-month period ending March 31 — to the point that the postal service projects a $7 billion shortfall this year and a cumulative shortfall of $238 billion by 2020. To stop the bleeding, the agency floated its proposal, which is projected to save between $3 billion and $5 billion a year.
Al DeSarro, spokesman for the western area of the United States Postal Service, said before any change can be enacted, Congress must approve the cutback. And that’s not likely to happen before early next year.
Once Congress takes action — if it does — the postal service estimates that the change will take another six months to implement.
“So maybe by July of next year,” he said.
As Americans adjust to the possibility — a Gallup survey showed 66 percent support the proposal — some are strongly protesting.
Marge Jones, a volunteer at the South Side Senior Center, likes getting her mail six days of the week. Her address is one of 57,639 delivery points in Billings that would be affected by the loss of Saturday service.
“The mailman tells me I get the most mail of anybody,” she said, smiling.
Jones’ late husband worked for the postal service for 20 years, and she has a soft spot for the agency and its employees. She also likes the mix of mail she gets and voices alarm at the thought of missing even one day.
“I get a lot of magazines, which I truly, truly love,” she said. “If they stopped Saturday delivery everything would be later. I hate to think what it’d look like on Monday.”
Though some reports predict that the change to five-day delivery would impact the elderly and people without Internet access, King and his fellow seniors at the Stillwater Senior Citizens Center in Absarokee didn’t seem fazed at the thought of missing Social Security checks or medical supplies in the mail.
Jim Veik, who was eating lunch there recently, is all for the idea. In the 1950s, he delivered mail in Riverside, Calif. He figures one fewer day of service would reduce fuel consumption, wear and tear on vehicles and even pollution.
“If it saves the government money, I’m all for it,” he said.
Obviously, some businesses will be impacted by the change. But not so many as one might think. Even Netflix, which sends out movies by mail, is reserving judgment on the proposal.
Steve Swasey, a spokesman for the company, said Netflix hasn’t taken a position, “mostly because it’s not a done deal yet.”
Netflix ships roughly 2 million movies on any given day, with Tuesday being the busiest. Most subscribers get their movies before the weekend, he said, and ship them back on Monday or Tuesday.
At the PostNet at 2912 Grand Ave., owner Bill Ruff doesn’t foresee any problem, despite the fact that five-day service would eliminate delivery to the 100 private mailboxes inside his business.
“People talk about it (proposal), but more out of nostalgia,” he said. “No one can think of a good reason to keep it (Saturday delivery) except that it’s been around forever. It’s part of who we are.”
But the end of Saturday delivery would mean change in the publishing industry. Bloomberg.com reports that Time magazine would have to change its editorial, production and delivery cycles should the post office cut Saturday delivery.
John Barrows, director of the Montana Newspaper Association, said it would affect a number of publications, particularly weekly newspapers that publish late in the week.
“If they mail by Thursday the odds really drop off,” he said. “If they mail on Friday, you’re out of luck.”
Likewise, some daily newspapers, including The Billings Gazette, rely on the postal service to deliver in outlying areas. Amber Heupel of The Gazette’s circulation department reported that on a daily basis in May The Gazette mailed more than 1,600 copies to in-state and out-of-state addresses. Already, Sunday’s edition is sent out with Monday’s mail, she added.
The drop in mail volume can be attributed, at least in part, to direct deposit of paychecks and online bill-paying. But there are holdouts like Scott McGinnis of Columbus, who still prefers having his paychecks delivered by mail.
“I like the touch of my money,” he said, laughing.
McGinnis is president of the United Steelworkers Union at Stillwater Mining Co., where employees who opt out of direct deposit get their paychecks in Saturday’s mail.
McGinnis and his wife, Cindy, frequently pick up his paycheck and deposit it on Saturday, the same day they stick their bills in the mail. Cindy, who works in Billings, also likes Saturday hours for doing her business locally.
“I hate to see them not run on Saturdays,” Cindy said. “They can pick another day maybe, but not Saturday.”
According to DeSarro, Saturday was chosen because it’s the lightest mail day by volume — around 11 percent of a typical week’s total. Plus, about one-third of businesses and organizations are closed on Saturdays anyway, he added.
“From that standpoint, it’s the best option,” he said.
As for the McGinnises, five-day delivery should actually have little impact. The post office would remain open in the morning and they could still get their mail in the box there. But Scott wonders about their neighbors on the delivery route.
“There’s a whole bank of mailboxes out where we live,” he said.
There’s no question that the change would affect Randy Meeker. He has delivered mail in the Columbus area since 1984. When he started out, routes were only three days a week. Delivery was quickly bumped up to five days, and by 1990 he was running his 100-plus-mile route six days of the week.
“One-sixth of my work would be cut,” he said of the proposal. “And one-third of my income.”
Elimination of Saturday delivery would likely mean one-third less service for 37 mailboxes west of Custer. Leslie Ruff and his neighbors have their mail delivered only three days a week – and one of those days happens to be Saturday.
Yet Ruff, who ran a mail route for 20 years, has no problem with the proposal. In fact, he thinks the postal service should eliminate many of its smaller facilities.
“About two-thirds of the post offices should be closed across the state anyway,” he said. “I think they should turn it over to a private enterprise.”
However, his neighbors, Melvin and Karen Lich, think otherwise. They say they would hate to lose Saturday delivery. If one day has to be cut, they wish the post office would space another day or two between their Tuesday and Thursday deliveries.
The elimination of Saturday service would not only mean their regular mix of mail would arrive later, but their weekly copy of the Western Ag Reporter, delivered to their mailbox on Saturday, wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday — five days after publication.
The couple realize they could get a post office box in Custer, but they don’t relish the thought of making the 26-mile round trip to pick up their mail.
“We heard about it (proposal) earlier this year,” Karen said. “I was just hoping it’d go away.”