Frustrations Mount As Mt. Vernon Post Office Remains Closed
Updated September 3, 2020: The U.S. Postal Service plans to reopen the Mt. Vernon Branch September 10.
The Mt. Vernon branch of the U.S. Postal Service sits at one end of a non-descript strip mall. When Arnett Howard pulled up on a recent afternoon, he was confused to find the doors locked and signs in the window directing people to other branches.
“I got the note at the main post office, it said open on the 22nd,” Howard says. “I came to return my keys for my lock box, and I can’t return my keys.”
Thanks to a pivotal election and an ongoing pandemic, the U.S. Postal Service has come under increased scrutiny around the country. On Columbus’ Near East Side, that attention has given way to anger and exasperation as the Mt. Vernon branch remains shuttered after more than two months.
The branch closed down in June when the air conditioning failed. A Postal Service spokeswoman declined an interview request, but said the agency is working with the landlord to repair or replace the broken unit. In a September 3 press release, the USPS said the necessary repairs to the building's air conditioner are complete, and they plan to reopen the branch on September 10.
The strip mall, and the residential high rise behind it, are owned by Michigan-based American Community Developers through a different entity called Shiloh Grove Limited Partnership.
A different Michigan company called Independent Management Services handles day-to-day operations. One of their representatives refused an interview, but said they rented a temporary commercial air-conditioning unit to get the post office back up and running.
Walking around the building, there’s no unit visible and the post office’s doors are still closed.
“I’m not in the position to judge what went wrong here, I just know that someone dropped the ball—that’s for sure,” Joy Foster says.
Foster lives around the corner in a bright purple house. She was annoyed by the same incorrect letter saying the post office would re-open August 22. She has kept a P.O. Box for years, saying it eases her worries about theft. She also doesn’t mind what’s usually a short walk to pick up her mail.
But since the Mt. Vernon location closed, she—and everyone else with a P.O. Box there—has been diverted to the Twin Rivers branch on the edge of Grandview Heights.
“I literally have to go get in my car, go downtown, past downtown Columbus, to the Twin Rivers Drive location, and pick up my mail,” Foster says with mounting frustration. “I do that every other day, rather than every day.”
People who want other services have options a bit closer, like the downtown branch in the Bricker federal building or the branch in the Short North. But Al Edmondson says those trips can be a challenge for those in the neighborhood who don’t have a car.
Edmondson runs A Cut Above The Rest barber shop across the street, and says he wouldn’t have let a broken air conditioner shutter his business this long.
“The post office, I think they could’ve did the same thing,” he says. “Because you’ve seen back in the day when they didn’t have air conditioning, they still had postal services. You could open the doors, fans, and cut your hours back a little bit, but not having access to it has been a real issue in this community, not only for the businesses, but for the people.”
Julie Carpenter-Hubin puts the onus on the property owner and the management company, arguing that they shouldn't be a landlord if it takes them months to fix an air conditioner. She’s also frustrated the Postal Service hasn’t been more forceful in getting the branch up and running.
“They would be, absolutely be, more aggressive with the landlord,” Carpenter-Hubin says. “How long would any of us stand for not having air conditioning in our homes during 90-degree heat? We wouldn’t. And we wouldn’t move because we didn’t have air conditioning, we would get it fixed.”
“I just don’t understand,” she says in exasperation. “How hard is that?”
The issue has gained the attention of some local leaders. State Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) says he has reached out to USPS but hasn’t gotten much of a response.
City Attorney Zach Klein, also a Democrat, noted in a statement that Columbus doesn’t require businesses to have air conditioning, but that his office has gotten in touch with the landlord and urged them to repair the system.
Meanwhile, the November election is looming, and voting by mail is expected to be more popular than ever before. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office has printed 7.8 million ballot request forms, enough for every registered voter in the state. They go out this week through the U.S. Postal Service.