Pioneer Station, one of two post office locations in Sitka, closed over the weekend after the contract manager and the USPS couldn’t agree on contract terms (KCAW/Rose)

Sitkans running errands this morning (Monday 5-13-19) were surprised to find brown paper covering the windows of the downtown branch of the United States Post Office. After over two decades of running the branch, the owner of the substation decided to close down rather than agree to what he believes is a bad contract with the Postal Service. KCAW’s Katherine Rose reports.

For the last 20 years, Ed Conway has been the contract manager of the Pioneer Station on Lincoln Street, one of two United States Post Office locations in Sitka. But as of Monday, May 12, he’s the former contract manager. He says he gave USPS notice in October that he would be closing the downtown location if they didn’t meet his new contract terms.

“We hadn’t had a raise in 10 years at the contract station. I was just following procedure, I had to give them a four month notice before I closed it, so I gave it to them in October and told them we would be closing on the 1st of February,” he said.

Conway said they got back to him at the end of January just before he was ready to close.

“They said don’t close it down we’re giving you your raise,” he said. “So I said okay, fine. And that was the end of it.”

Then, he said, then they backed out on their offer.

“All they wanted to do was try to negotiate down the amount of money they wanted to give me,” he said. “Frankly I wasn’t having any of it. So I said, ‘Well let’s just close it up. I’m not going to do it for nothing. 10 years without a raise is a long time.”

So on May 13, with little public notice, they papered up the windows and the doors were locked. Two letters were plastered to the doors,– one from the USPS, one from Conway –stating that the Pioneer Station Post Office would be closing effective immediately, and all P.O. boxes would be moved to the main post office location on Sawmill Creek Road.

A letter notifying PO box holders that the Pioneer Station is closing and all mail will be redirected to the main post office location on Sawmill Creek Road (Photo/Rose)

The letter from USPS noted the distance between the two post offices, just 1.3 miles. Conway says the proximity to the other post office was one of the reasons USPS said they couldn’t approve the raise. And the downtown location wasn’t bringing in enough revenue. But Conway said the post office serves a lot of tourists and this year could have been a big one for them.

“We’re finally getting a decent tourist year for the last 10 years. This is the best tourist season that we’re going to have,” he said. “I tried to tell them that too, but, you know, they didn’t really care.”

Even still, many of the P.O. boxes at the location were unused.

“We had space for 500 boxes here,” he said. “We were probably only using 300 of them. They were saying that the box rent sales were down and the revenue was down.”

One of those box holders is Sotera Perez. She’s had a PO box downtown for the past 15 years, and she discovered over the weekend that she wouldn’t have a box anymore.

“It will be a huge inconvenience. I live downtown and I work downtown, and having a downtown post office was, not just convenient, but the best option for me,” she said.

She said she probably won’t keep a PO box. “It’s untenable for me to make the two mile trip every day out the road to make sure I’m getting my mail timely,” she said.

Perez considers Conway a friend, and says she’s sad to see Pioneer Station close. When tourists asks about mail, she often directs them there. And she thinks it will be a big inconvenience for fishermen too, and anyone who lives downtown without a car.

“I know quite a few fishermen who have their post office boxes down here. It’s convenient to all of the harbors,” she said. “I’m working with someone who also lives downtown and who is an artist who ships very regularly, probably a few times a month. Managing huge pieces of art, going out, actually ends up being a difficulty.”

KCAW reached out to the USPS Consumer Affairs office in Anchorage to find out if they would be putting the station out to bid for another contract or closing it altogether, but they did not respond by press time.

Conway said he’s retiring, but he’s still sad to see the era come to a close. He said he hopes the postal service puts the station out to bid and someone else takes over.

“Me and Dolores have been running it for 21 years,” Conway said. We’ve done a nice job for the post office, and hopefully we’ve provided a nice service for everybody in town. Just that, you know, can’t do it for nothing, you’ve gotta make a living.”

Effective Tuesday, May 14, all mail in Sitka will be handled out of the main office on Sawmill Creek Road.