Stamps, laundry go together in Allentown
Authorized post office opens in laundromat in South Mountain neighborhood
Tyrone Richardson/The Morning Call
Rain, sleet — and now a spin cycle – won’t thwart your package drop-offs and stamp purchases if you live in Allentown’s South Mountain neighborhood.
A U.S. Postal Service contract unit, or authorized dealer, recently opened in the Emmaus Avenue Laundromat. Officials showed off the new office for the first time Wednesday.
While a post office amid the hum of washers and dryers is unusual in the Lehigh Valley, contract postal stations have been around for many years in supermarkets and convenience stores. The concept has gained momentum in recent years as the nation’s mail service provider searches for ways to increase convenience and services while stemming financial losses.
One retail expert says the contract stations add convenience for consumers while allowing the ailing Postal Service to better compete with pack-and-ship merchants.
Contract stations, owned and operated by third-party dealers, offer the same goods and services as a post office, including stamps, shipping, and certified mail. The stations, however exclude services such as money orders, passports and post office boxes.
The contract stations add “access points for our customers and in most instances expanded hours,” said Postal Service spokeswoman Anita Rutt-Guerriere. “Having a place for our customers where they live and/or work.”
She said the agency continually evaluates neighborhoods to determine whether a new station is needed. Allentown’s South Mountain area was identified and merchant proposals were submitted more than a year ago.
In the end, Emmaus Avenue Laundromat owner Steve Banko was tapped for the task.
Banko retrofitted roughly 200 square feet of retail space in his 6,000-square-foot laundromat at 2825 W Emmaus Ave. to house the post office, which opened roughly a month ago.
“With this postal unit it will just drive more to our doors and adds a nice convenience to customers around the neighborhood,” he said.
William Sanchez is among some neighboring residents already using its services. The 34-year-old Allentown resident stopped in on Wednesday afternoon to mail a package.
“I was here doing laundry earlier,” he said. “I saw they have a post office and I came back to use it.”
The station is run by laundromat workers who have undergone training by postal workers. Banko touts the station’s longer hours compared to traditional post offices — open as late as 8 p.m. on weekdays, till 6 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m on Sundays.
“There are very few places you can send a package and buy some stamps on a Sunday,” Banko said. “We’re open seven days a week.”
There are 11 contract stations in Lehigh and Northampton counties, which includes some popular ones like the station in Weis Markets on Cedar Crest Boulevard in South Whitehall Township.
The local tally includes a station that opened recently at Minuteman Press on Tilghman Street in Allentown. There were roughly 4,250 contract postal stations in the country as of last year, compared to more than 31,500 traditional post offices, including about 50 in Northampton and Lehigh counties, officials said.
Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners, said growth of contract stations doesn’t necessarily give the postal service more market share, but adds convenience.
“The post office is starting to decentralize its services and trying to become more convenient without their own real estate,” said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners. “That also allows the retailer to offer something different from the competition.”
The Postal Service has been forced to make tough choices in recent years as it struggles to remain relevant — and sustainable — as consumers turn to their computers to pay bills and correspond with friends and family.
Earlier this year, the agency backed off from a proposal to close thousands of rural post offices, opting instead to cut opening hours.
The Postal Service estimates the plan will save $500 million a year once it is fully implemented in 2014. The previous proposal to close more than 3,000 rural post offices would have saved $200 million a year.