It’s been eight months since Montpelier lost its post office in the July 2023 flood, and finally the United States Postal Services has taken a step toward alleviating the problem. A new temporary USPS site at the Central Vermont Marketplace in Berlin opened Monday morning, Feb. 5. The new location is open to some customers and is part of a larger plan to find a permanent location downtown.
Despite the upheaval of a move from the National Life building to the site formerly known as the Berlin Mall, interim Montpelier postmaster Jerry Reen already had his desk in place, complete with a pile of chocolates and a cell phone. There was no sign on the mirrored door next door to Five Below indicating it led to a post office, but Reen said it is open for business, although not yet set up, and customers (with a notice to pick up mail, he noted) are welcome to come in. This is a marked difference from the National Life sorting space, which was closed to the public.
“Customers who receive a notice of attempted delivery will be able to pick up their items at this location during regular business hours. There will be no retail or post office box service available at this location, but negotiations are underway for a new downtown retail post office location, and news on that will be forthcoming,” said a press release from USPS dated Feb. 2.
Those with post office boxes still have to drive to Barre City to pick up their mail, Reen said.
This is particularly good news for residents in Montpelier’s upper Elm Street area in and near Middlesex and East Montpelier, who report receiving only a few mail deliveries for the entire month of January after their mail carrier, Laurie Dodge, retired.
The USPS press release addressed the concern, noting “the delivery issues on the Middlesex/Montpelier route that customers were experiencing have been abated and is current [sic].”
USPS Leasing Agents Seeking Space?
The USPS has apparently had leasing agents combing Montpelier for a site for a new post office. However, nobody interviewed for this story could confirm anything substantial, and those who did comment spoke cryptically about it.
Asked if USPS was seeking a retail space in Montpelier, postmaster Reen said only “We are actively working on that.” He later added, “The post office (is intent) on finding a place downtown, hopefully sooner than later but I don’t have a timeframe.”
City Manager William Fraser said the post office reached out to the city asking about using the Country Club Road property. Chris Lumbra, the city’s sustainability and facilities coordinator, gave a USPS representative a tour of the property, but it wasn’t a good fit, Fraser said.
Fraser also said he suggested locations for a retail post office in town, including space owned by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) in City Center on Main Street.
Asked if leasing agents for the USPS had reached out to them, VLCT Executive Director Ted Brady said, “I do not have anything to report yet.”
Brady did confirm that VLCT has 15,000 square feet of space available to lease.
The Bridge also reached out to Paul Hughes, regional public affairs officer — New England Region for the federal Office of Strategic Communication, asking if he knew if USPS was actively seeking a space for a post office to replace the flood-damaged building it formerly occupied on State Street. The only comment Hughes had about it is that the federal General Service Administration, which manages federal property, has “supported USPS in their search for lease space.”
No Delivery; No Place to Pick up Mail
Since the flood last summer, Montpelier post office box holders have made do with postal trucks, which were periodically unstaffed during posted hours, and driving to the Barre City post office to pick up mail. Residents without post office boxes who haven’t received delivery — as has occurred in the Elm Street neighborhood and in Middlesex and parts of East Montpelier since Dodge’s retirement in December — have had no physical location at which they can pick up mail, which means they have just had to wait and see if it will get delivered.
The Feb. 2 USPS press release, however, did mention that the lack of mail delivery on that route for the past month has “abated.”
Susan Becker, of Montpelier Vineyards on Elm Street, described the $100 fruit box a friend sent as a gift in late December. Normally, Dodge would deliver packages in a plastic bag at the mailbox two-tenths of a mile from Becker’s house. This package arrived weeks late, no bag, and sat on the mailbox in the slushy rain. The fruit was destroyed. At first Becker thought “the new person’s struggling,” but when neither letter mail nor packages arrived for most of January, and without a place to pick up the mail herself, she opened a post office box in Worcester.
“I went to Worcester today to get a P.O. Box,” she wrote in a Jan. 27 email to The Bridge. “The postal person laughed. She said I was the second person this morning, sixth this week from Montpelier.”
One Montpelier resident told The Bridge, “We sent our grandson a birthday card two weeks ago with a gift card in it and he still hasn’t received it. He lives off of Elm Street in Montpelier.”
Susan Ritz of Cummings Road told The Bridge that since Dodge retired, “We have gotten mail three times. Plus we have to go to town to send outgoing mail or it would sit forever in our mailbox. We lost two months of mail in the flood and aftermath when it was on hold for our move [from Montpelier]. We now live just over the line in East Montpelier, but still have a Montpelier address and ZIP code. I have contacted Senator Sanders, but otherwise just hoping there are no important docs I’m missing, especially since [I’ve been] trying to settle my mother’s estate.”
Commission Rallies for P.O. Downtown
In December, the Montpelier Commission for Recovery and Resilience (MCRR) contacted Scott Manier, USPS district manager, requesting an update on the status of USPS services in Montpelier. “We asked that the USPS work in partnership with the community to resolve the current, unacceptable, situation. Mr. Manier has not responded,” wrote commission chair Ben Doyle in a Dec. 12, 2023, Front Porch Forum post.
The MCRR also spearheaded a rally in front of the (former) post office on State Street on Jan. 8, demanding the return of a post office in downtown Montpelier. Rep. Peter Welch and Rep. Becca Balint both showed up, and Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a representative.
In his Front Porch Forum post, Doyle suggested frustrated residents contact post office leadership, and that’s just what Susan Becker did when she stopped getting mail delivered last month. She contacted everyone from Reen to Gov. Phil Scott, Reps. Welch and Balint, and a long list of USPS officials. And that post office box in Worcester?
“I am going to take a copy of my receipt for my bill and write a letter to the Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and ask him to reimburse me,” Becker said.
Postmasters in Montpelier
The longest lasting postmaster in Montpelier in recent history is Shawn Blaine, who served two and a half years. Since then, Montpelier has struggled to retain leadership at its post office. From August 2020 to today, there have been nine postmasters or officers-in-charge. Interim Montpelier postmaster Jerry Reen told The Bridge the reason for the turnover is because most of the former leaders have been promoted.
The list below is posted on the USPS website and does not appear to have been updated since Reen took the reins as interim postmaster quite recently.