Category Archives: Postal Consumer Advisory Council

A Tour of the Oak Park Post Office

Oak Park, IL Post OfficeAs promised, a tour of the Oak Park Post Office…Oak Park Post Office 80th Anniversary Celebration, USPSThe Oak Park Post Office was built in 1935. It was a Public Works Administration project and there are other post offices in the country that are the same or very similar in design. entrance to Oak Park, IL post officeAbove the two main Lake Street entrances are these gorgeous brass images of different postal delivery methods (air, train, covered wagon, car, horse, and carrier). brasswork at Oak Park, IL Post OfficeI love the art deco birds above the doors. In 2011, the post office released a stamp of this design and I’ve always regretted that it was only for non-profits. detail of Oak Park, IL post officeCarved bald eagles adorn the brickwork above the doors. Oak Park Post Office, USPS 2 Oak Park Post Office, USPS 1I’d never noticed the fantastic lighting details until I started coming for the council meetings each month. The star lights are in the lobby at each end of the building and the sconces light up the corridor. And those tiny stars right below the crown molding–magnificent! Oak Park Post Office, USPS, muralsThere are four handpainted murals in the lobby as well. Oak Park Post Office 80th Anniversary Celebration, USPSIn our behind-the-scenes tour, we got to see the offices upstairs. There are a couple of meeting rooms, a room for both unions, and a couple of offices that the USPS hopes to rent out. Though the offices need a lot of work to make them shine, wouldn’t it be so fun to have your office space in the post office? Plus both offices look out at Unity Temple to the east. Oak Park, IL post office, carriers swing roomAt the end of the upstairs tour, we came upon this door. Hmmmmm… Oak Park, IL post office, carriers swing room Oak Park, IL post office, carriers swing roomAhhh…it’s an employee break room! I’m not sure how often the vintage ping pong table, chess board, pool table, and exercise bike get used nowadays, but the Postmaster mentioned that the lockers were used, especially in the winter for changing into cold weather gear. It kind of cracked me up…it felt like a rec room that hadn’t been updated since the 40s. I love it! Oak Park, IL Post Office, sorting room, USPSLeaving the Swing Room, we went downstairs to the sorting room. Each mail carrier has a stand where the route’s mail is sorted into slots for each address. Mail carrier’s are responsible for sorting their own routes.  Oak Park, IL Post Office, sorting room, USPSThe “Hot Case” is where late arriving mail goes. Mail carriers check here for any last minute mail for their routes. Oak Park, IL Post Office, sorting room, USPSThis area is where the packages are sorted. A postal worker scans each box (under that yellow arm) and throws the box in the orange bins (“pumpkins”) for the appropriate route. Can you imagine working quickly and tossing boxes in the correct bin? (Also, this should serve as a reminder to pack up those boxes with lots of cushion!) While we were there, the post office got a huge eight foot (estimation) high pallet of boxes from Fed Ex. The USPS carries the “last mile” for Fed Ex and UPS, so those packages were set to be sorted and delivered the following Monday. Oak Park, IL Post Office, sorting room, USPSI loved seeing the productivity goals for mail processing and counter service. I’d love to see the room in full swing on a Monday morning–I bet it’s buzzing!

 

Oak Park Post Office Turns 80

Oak Park Post Office 80th Anniversary Celebration Last Saturday the Oak Park Post Office held a celebration to mark the 80th anniversary of the building. I have to admit I was a little nervous about the whole thing after our last advisory council meeting, but man, did they ever pull it off! It was really fun to see people smiling at the post office and to hear of people’s interest in the building. Because the newspaper didn’t help publicize the event (this was the only article I could find online), most people were confused about the snacks and the extra people milling around. Once we told them, they seemed really excited and thankful to have such a beautiful building in the community. Oak Parkers love their architecture!oak park post office 80th anniversary celebration, food spread oak park post office 80th anniversary celebration, food spreadThe post office put out a lovely spread. There were donuts, cupcakes, cookies, and coffee and fresh fruit, mini sandwiches, meatballs, and chicken salad…I wasn’t expecting so much variety! Fellow council member, Dea, and I worked at the popcorn machine handing out freshly popped bags of popcorn to customers. We even made deliveries to the ever-growing passport line and those customers seemed excited to have a little something to eat during their waits.

The Postmaster, Phil Crawford, gave tours of the building, sharing the history of the building giving us a peek at the second floor offices and the sorting room. (I’ll share more about that soon.)Oak Park, IL Post Office 80th anniversary postmarkAnd, much to my delight, there was a special postmark!! Phil gave the council members a pre-stamped envelope with the postmark (shown above). I sent a dozen postcards out to some of my penpals and bought some fantastic new stamps. It was a great day at the Oak Park Post Office!

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 11

Oak Park Post Office, interiorOn Wednesday I attended our August meeting of the USPS Consumer Advisory Council. We spent most of the meeting recapping the Oak Park Farmers Market and planning for the 80th anniversary celebration next weekend.

The mobile post office made over $500 at the Farmers Market during its four hour stay! That was with the challenge of not being able to take credit cards (thanks to a broken generator and no access to power.) One of the concerns with the mobile post office was that it might hurt the business at the regular post office, but the main post office maintained its sales numbers. Because of this success, the USPS is planning to do more farmers markets and bring the mobile post office into the shopping areas of Oak Park, too. I suggested selling those stamped postcards and having a table for postcard writing near the mobile post office. It would be so great to see a mini letter social at the farmers market!

Plans are rolling along for the 80th anniversary celebration.  Press releases were sent to the local newspapers, though none have been printed or posted online yet. I’ve posted it below. The event will be happening next Saturday, August 29th from 10AM-2PM. There will be tours of the post office, including the second floor and the sorting room. (The committee got a tour of the sorting room a few months ago and it was fascinating to see how the mail and packages are sorted.) And there will be a display of old pictures from the ground breaking to the finished building. And…there will be a special postmark!! Woohoo! (I’m hoping to have a stack of mail ready to go!) If you live in the area, please come! USPS Press Release Oak Park, IL post office 80th anniversary celebration

 

 

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A Day at the Market 

Mobile Post Office at the Oak Park Farmers Market, USPS, post office on wheelsThe mobile post office made it to the Oak Park Farmers Market! Hallelujah!

We got to the market around 10:45am and there were a couple of people in line ahead of us. I was excited to buy a few sheets each of the Summer Harvest stamps and the Coastal Birds postcard stamps, but their credit card machine was “down” and they were out of the postcard stamps. Since I was saving my cash for the farmers market, I only bought one sheet of the Summer Harvest stamps. So, what could have been a $40+ sale ended up being less than $10. (Bummer…) But on a high note, Orlando was working and he’s our old favorite from our Oak Park Post Office days, so it was good to catch up with him. Clearly the USPS made a good decision to have their cheeriest employee working at the market!

There was no special postmark, but they had a table with coloring books for kids and a free bubble mailer for participating in a survey about your experience at the window. I’m interested to hear how the post office fared financially because future participation will depend on Saturday’s sales. I’ll report back when we have our next council meeting in a couple of weeks. IMG_5206IMG_5209After we got our postage stamps, we hopped in the donut line for the famous farmers market donuts, bought a load of Mirai corn, and went home. (And of course, both the donuts and the corn were out of this world!) 

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Mobile Post Office at the Oak Park Farmers Market

stack of mail artYou guys…I’m so behind on my mail. The stack is growing and growing and I have entires in my Letter Ledger that are as old as May. This weekend, I need to start catching up. I’m hoping to have a few letters written for tomorrow when I go to the Mobile Post Office at the Oak Park Farmers Market! I know I promised you some details this week, but sadly, I never heard back from the post office whether or not there will be a special postmark offered tomorrow. (I have a feeling there won’t be one since I never heard back…I hope I’m pleasantly surprised though.) If you go, I’d love to hear about it (and make sure you get a donut at the Farmers Market. You won’t be sorry!)

Postmarks or not, I’ll report back next week!

Have a good weekend!

P.S. Annie commented on my tourist postcard post last week and shared a vintage postcard from Salt Lake City with a tiny bag of salt sewn into the edge! So fun! You can see her post with a picture here!

USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 10

Stamp Collecting 8 cent postage stamp, USPSAt last…our July council meeting!

We started the meeting with a follow-up report about the Freedom of Information Act request about our council. The USPS provided the meeting minutes of all of our meetings but redacted all member’s names. The USPS also declined the person the right to attend one of our meetings since meetings are only open to current council members.

The next order of business was a discussion about the mobile Post Office visiting the Oak Park Farmers Market. The Postmaster determined that July 25 was too close for him, so he decided to push things back to August 1. Again, this was disappointing since we’ve been talking about the farmers market for months. I wondered if it would actually happen. Since the meeting, I’ve received confirmation that the mobile Post Office will be at the Oak Park Farmers Market on August 1! I am hoping to get more details (timing, whether or not there will be a special postmark, services) and I will share more information then.

We moved onto the big topic of the meeting–planning for the 80th Anniversary celebration. It will be held on Saturday, August 29 from 10am-2pm. We discussed contacting the historical society to see if someone there could create and host tours of the building that day and to see if they had more old pictures of the building through the years. Two members had already reached out to the local newspapers, but more media attention was planned. Council members volunteered to attend and help with refreshments and greeting people on the day of the event. The post office decided, in spite of our offers to help, most of the planning would be done by the post office. (Honestly…this makes me a little bit nervous. Considering how poorly the planning of the other two (smaller) events has gone, I hope they get on the ball and create a really great celebration.)

We got more updates about the facilities issues at the River Forest Post Office.

  • An order was put in for repaving and striping the lot to make the handicap spaces more clear.
  • There is also funding approved for a new roof for the building in 2016.
  • Funding has been approved for more maintenance staff in the Oak Park post offices, which will benefit River Forest since they share.
  • As far as the Oak Park Post Office is concerned, the building’s exterior (the bricks and the brass) will be professionally cleaned thanks to private donations. (For those of you who have no idea what the post office looks like, I promise to have pictures soon…it’s really a beautiful building!)

Nationally, a lot of changes happened in the past few weeks. Apparently the new Postmaster General has made some personnel changes and cuts at the top. The USPS is trying to save money on management to relieve money and resources for delivery and sales. Sadly, some people lost their jobs or got moved around, but the postal employees at our meeting seemed to feel this was a step in the right direction to improve operations in the long run. Customers will benefit from the changes and improvements and hopefully that will increase sales in the future.

New delivery vehicles are coming soon. The vehicles will be tall enough for mail carriers to stand up inside and there will be a skylight so carriers can see the mail and parcels better. All of these changes are driven by the huge increase in package delivery, the future of the USPS.

A USPS marketing manager was scheduled to visit the Oak Park Post Office on Friday (July 17) to observe the service counter and to look at the post office from the customer’s eyes. This conversation brought up a suggestion that signage at the post office is sometimes lacking. For instance, it’s difficult to know (unless you do it all the time) what forms you need to fill out for each service you need. The signage is not helpful. The USPS app is not really helpful. And we reiterated our frustration that the cost of a first class stamp is very difficult to find anywhere on the USPS website.

Last month, all USPS employees attended a “Deliver the Brand” training. There is a huge focus on customer service right now. I would love to hear from you whether or not you have noticed a change in your local post office.

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 9

Letter Carriers We Deliver StampsOur June Post Office Consumer Advisory Council meeting was…interesting. Phil (the Postmaster) was not in attendance but his manager, Jackie, was, so we sort of rehashed a few things from the previous meeting in order to clarify some concerns better.

The meeting started with the announcement that someone filed a Freedom of Information Act request about our group. This person is a former postal employee who now travels around filing FOIA requests about the post office in his role as a self-appointed USPS watchdog (my words). My fellow council members and I were concerned whether or not our names would be given to this person, so the post office promised to follow up with more information at our next meeting.*

We talked about the Passport Fair again. Apparently this is the “year of the passport” and more fairs will be scheduled. Council members who did receive postcards about May’s Passport Fair mentioned that the type was very small and there were spelling errors on the cards.

We talked about the 80th Anniversary celebration again. Saturday, August 29 was confirmed as the date for the celebration. Jackie said she would approve small giveaways like coloring books for kids. And she thought there would be a small budget for refreshments. A few members mentioned they would reach out to the local newspapers to give them a heads up about the event.

Bob, our co-chair, offered to contact the Oak Park village newsletter to ask them to put something out about dog bites and mail carriers. The post office said they would give him an official “blurb” for the newsletter.

The (Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park) carriers have new scanners that are connected by satellite so if you get text alerts for your Amazon packages, you will get your text even faster letting you know your Prime package has arrived.

We confirmed that July 25th would be the date for the mobile post office’s visit to the Oak Park Farmers Market.

We learned that all postal employees would be attending a “Deliver the Brand” customer service training.

We reiterated the shabby state of the River Forest Post Office grounds.

At the end of the meeting, we discussed the effectiveness of our group. According to Jackie, who manages a number of post offices in Chicagoland and Northern Illinois, Oak Park has recovered from its initial challenges much better than other “troubled post offices” that she manages.

It is still to be determined if our council appointments would end after one year. (If so, August would be our final meeting.)

I’ll be back tomorrow with our July meeting notes and then next week, we can get on with our lives and talk more about Japan, okay?

*I’m obviously blogging publicly about the advisory council, so I don’t have any expectations of privacy in that sense…but my name handed to this guy on a government document feels a little bit invasive. And my fellow council members don’t blog about our work, so they certainly deserve a level of privacy.

P.S. The guy in the middle of the stamp reminds me of John the Mailman.

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 8

US Postal Service stamps 8 cents(I’m a little behind in blogging about the postal advisory council. So, I apologize for the upcoming clump of posts about the council’s work.)

Our May meeting was a little bit disappointing. (I mentioned last time that I’ve been feeling a little bit of ups and downs with the council this year.) First, the post office reported that their Passport Fair was kind of a bust. Apparently, they didn’t have more traffic than most other Saturdays, but things were spread out over the extended hours. This may have been slightly more convenient for customers. Robert, the council co-chair, expressed his frustration that he didn’t receive any advertising about the fair until 5:30PM the night of the fair. The post office representatives insisted that the postcards were all sent out to all Oak Parkers the Wednesday before the fair, but only one or two council members actually received any advertising. Also, the weekend of the Fair was a busy weekend in Oak Park. We suggested that the post office look at the public calendar before scheduling the next fair.

After months of discussion and planning for Oak Park’s Day in Our Village, the post office was unable to secure a booth at the fair because they sent in their application too late and all of the spaces were filled. Since we had been discussing Day in Our Village since March, it felt like a big let-down that the ball was dropped on this. The main job of our council is to help improve postal relations with the public and Day in Our Village would have been a great community event to participate in.

The focus turned to the mobile post office visiting the Oak Park Farmers Market and we decided the second or third week of July would be best. The Postmaster planned to look into securing the post office on wheels for the market.

We eagerly discussed the Oak Park Post Office building’s 80th anniversary. We talked about having past Postmasters there, getting in touch with the Oak Park Historical Society to help with a display of artifacts and to ask the Oak Leaves (local newspaper) to republish their archives about the post office.

A council member brought up the facilities at the River Forest Post Office. She noticed that the handicap parking sign was upside down, there were no clear markings on the pavement for handicap parking, the trash can was overflowing, and the weeds and grass were overgrown. We learned that River Forest shares a custodian with the Oak Park post office, making time tight for managing all of the properties. And, postal employees cannot spread any chemical based weed treatment (per their union contract), so that part of the landscaping is outsourced to a professional company. The Postmaster said he would look into new striping in the parking lot.

The post office is trying to lease the second floor of the post office for more income. (Random note…but wouldn’t it be fun to have an office in the post office?)

In other maintenance news, over the next year, the post office will be refurbishing sixty-nine mailboxes in Oak Park.

Our discussion moved from customer issues to mail carrier delivery issues. According to the post office’s records, summer weather brings a new challenge for mail carriers—dog bites. Apparently, Chicago is #3 in the country for the most dog bites. So the post office sends out little postcards reminding people to keep their dogs away from the letter carriers.

And finally, we talked about package theft and the new challenge the post office has with leaving Amazon Prime boxes on people’s porches. Because Amazon deliveries are promised 2-day deliveries, the letter carriers have to balance finding a place on the customer’s porch where the package is out of plain sight, or leaving a redelivery card and risking an upset customer. It seems there isn’t a great solution for this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more exciting notes from our June meeting. In the meantime, anything going on with your mail carrier? Or in your post office?

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 7

USPS Letters Mingle Souls stampsOur April council meeting seemed like the most productive one yet. I admit I’ve been feeling a little bit down about the council the past couple of months, feeling like we were kind of just treading water and making little progress. This month, I felt the warm breeze of change, like we are finally starting to accomplish some of the things we set out to influence.

We started by hammering out the details for the two post office on wheels appearances (discussed at last month’s meeting). The mobile post office wouldn’t work for the Day in Our Village event because the sale of goods is prohibited there, but the postmaster is looking into hosting a table and handing out flyers, lapel pins, and coloring books. The Oak Park Farmers Market liaison is optimistic that the post office on wheels can be nearby the farmers market this summer and suggested July or August (for the ever popular “corn season”) as the best option. This one sounds like fun since there will (hopefully) be a special postmark. The post office will provide a press release to the local newspapers and distribute flyers to the Oak Park area residents to publicize the event.

We also talked about having a “Post Office Customer Appreciation Day”. At the beginning of our meeting the postmaster mentioned that the Oak Park Main Post Office is a registered landmark and it opened in 1935. I love celebrating milestones and anniversaries, so I suggested the PO hosts a customer appreciation day on the day the Oak Park Main opened. I was delighted when my idea was met with enthusiasm both from the council members and the post office team. We thought it would be fun to have tours of the building so that people could see what a gem we have in our community.

Then, to finish off last month’s passport discussion, the Oak Park Main Post Office will be hosting a passport fair on Saturday, May 16th from 9AM-2PM. There will be more clerks on hand to process passports and the fair will be heavily promoted in the local newspaper and postcards in area mailboxes. The postmaster is also looking into re-opening the window(s) by the door during peak hours for package pick-ups (and possibly passports) to alleviate some of the lines. This will be a fine balance of making sure that manpower is not wasted since that person would be slightly removed from the regular window business. It was also decided that Jackie (the regional manager for our area) and a council member will visit the post office on a Saturday to observe the happenings from the lobby to get an idea of issues and solutions.

Oh, and we decided to table all further discussion about snow until at least the end of the summer.

High five council members!

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 6

Two weeks ago our postal advisory council met for a combined February and March meeting. (Our February meeting was postponed at the last minute.) Postmaster Crawford missed the meeting due to a death in his family, but we had four representatives from the post office present and plenty to talk about.

Our main agenda topic was the handling of passports at the Oak Park Main Post Office (the only post office in the three communities that offers passport services.) One council member experienced a very long line on a Saturday morning while mailing a package. Apparently the passport line was long and filled with (naturally) impatient children and both the lines for mailing services and the line for passports were running very slowly. The council member wondered if there could be better staffing for Saturdays, which are busy passport days because it is the only opportunity school children and people who work normal 9-5 hours have to get their passports. The post office representatives said that this is a particularly busy time for passports because people are preparing for spring break and summer trips. They offered that some post offices have “passport fairs” once a month/every six weeks when the window is open longer and is more heavily staffed.

The passport discussion was the perfect transition to my own experience in the passport line last month. I was renewing my passport (which you can do without going to the post office passport line) but I had a question about my documentation (my name changed since my last passport) so I stood in the passport line at least six to eight feet behind the customer being served. (For the record, the customers in line for stamps were standing closer to the passport customer ahead of me.) The passport clerk looked up and yelled, “IF YOU ARE IN LINE FOR PASSPORTS GET BEHIND THE LINE!” No signage in the post office directs you to stand behind a line. I didn’t even see a line…there were rugs on the floor, but no visible line. I was not breathing down the proceeding customer’s neck or lurking at the counter. I could not hear anything they were speaking about. And again, the customers in line for stamps were closer to the passport interaction than I was. If passports involve such private information that customers are getting yelled at for standing “too close” why are passports being handled in such a busy room? Of course everyone in line turned and looked at me and I was completely embarrassed. When I told my friend about the experience later that day she said that every time she goes to the Oak Park Main post office, somebody is getting yelled at by an employee. To me this type of behavior is unacceptable and the reason so many people despise the post office. I don’t think anyone expects a parade and a free gift for visiting the post office, but customers deserve courtesy. In any other retail/customer service job, this type of customer “service” wouldn’t fly, so why is it so common at the post office?

I debated about sharing this story during the meeting. It felt like “tattling” on someone. I didn’t use her name, I used her clerk number (from the receipt I received when I mailed my passport renewal.) But this is what I’ve learned from six months on this committee, making very little progress:

We cannot just complain about the post office. We have to direct our complaints to the post office. If you experience really bad customer service at the post office it is okay to ask for a supervisor. If you are constantly getting your neighbor’s mail, it is okay to call the post office and mention it. If your Amazon Prime package says it’s out for delivery but doesn’t show up for two more days, it’s okay to call and see what’s going on. If anything, the USPS needs to get an idea of where their customer service is at in order to begin the road to improvements. (And, just as importantly, if you have a compliment about the professionalism of your clerk or your carrier, the post office needs to hear that, too. They need to know that good service is appreciated!) 

Moving on to another topic… We discussed the snow removal issues plaguing the mail carriers. In Oak Park, the homeowner’s snow removal ordinance only covers the public sidewalks, not the home’s walkway and stairs. Carriers find it difficult to navigate icy walks and stairs. The post office has printed notices to place in mailboxes of homes that have dangerous walkways and stairs but these are often ineffective. A mail carrier could skip delivery to these homes, but that means carrying all of that undelivered mail back to the post office and dragging it all back out again the next day…it’s often easier to just risk the ice and deliver the mail. The USPS has sued home owner’s in the past when carriers were hurt on the job due to falling on icy walkways and stairs (and injuries from dog bites.) Other than continued efforts at education customers, this seems like something the post office has little control over. One manager brought over a dozen pictures of houses with stairs and walks covered with more than a foot of snow and ice. The pictures were taken almost two weeks after our last big snow and were from a single carrier’s route in Forest Park. Homeowners should be doing better.

We also discussed the fact that the mailbox at the Oak Park Main Post Office was still surrounded by a few feet of snow. The committee wondered why the post office hadn’t done a better job of clearing its own box for its customers.

And lastly…the best part of the meeting was the public relations discussion. The committee is encouraging the post office to participate in Oak Park’s Day in Our Village and the Farmers’ Market. There is a mini “post office on wheels” that can be used at outdoor events to spread the word about post office services, sell stamps, and just spread good PR about the post office. The postal representatives mentioned that they could tie in the Farmers Market stamps with a special postmark at the Farmers Market. This idea was met with great enthusiasm…I hope it happens!

Our next meeting isn’t scheduled until April 22. In the meantime, fellow mail lovers, feel free to comment with your thoughts about the post office.

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