Privately operated post offices that serve walk-in customers are popping up in retail stores all over the Valley.
The service, started decades ago by the United States Postal Service, is available at 50 stations in the Valley, many in chain stores such as Hallmark and Bashas’, and more that are opening in smaller, family-owned facilities.
“The private postal units make it convenient for our customers,” said Peter Hass, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Phoenix. “They offer nearly all the services that our regular stations provide, except for handling registered mail and selling money orders. Some of them also rent individual, private mailboxes.”
The retail store stations, unlike government-owned and operated by the postal service, are run by employees of the company under a contract with the U.S. Postal Service.
The employees are paid by the company holding the contract. The company, in turn, receives a commission from the postal service based on monthly sales.
“The contract postal units also benefit the companies,” Hass said. “They attract customers and put their companies on the map.” Hass said without the smaller, privately operated stations, the U.S. Postal Service would probably have to build additional, larger post offices to serve the growing number of customers in the Valley, thus forcing more price increases in mail services.
Among the latest to join the growing number of contract postal units is Dr. Geeks, a family-owned computer sales and technical service center at 3050 S. Country Club Drive in Mesa.
Dr. Geeks, which has a small post office at the entrance of its store, is one of six private businesses in Mesa offering the service. There are nine, full-fledged U. S. Postal Service offices in the city.
Jay DiBernardo, owner of Dr. Geeks, said three of his employees received two days of training at the main Mesa post office before donning badges, United Postal Service shirts and starting to sell stamps and process mail.
“At first, people would come in our store and seemed confused,” DiBernardo said. “They didn’t know if they were in a post office or our computer store. Now, they know they can get both postal services — and have their computers served, too.”
His postal unit is open during regular Dr. Geeks store hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and closed Sundays. Regular postal service boxes are located outside the store for drop-off mail.
DiBernardo said his postal unit serves an average of 600 customers a day and sometimes as many as 800, including neighbor Susan Towne, owner of Treeland Nurseries, 2900 S. Country Club Drive, Mesa.
“We’re within walking distance from Dr. Geeks’ post office,” said Towne, whose nursery is one block from the computer store. “I take our business and personal mail there every day. Otherwise, I’d have to travel a long distance to reach the next closest post office.”
Mark Rowe, president of the Phoenix metro area local of the American Postal Workers Union, said the growing number of privately operated stations in the Valley is not a major labor relations issue. But, he said the union is concerned about the quality of service offered by the privately owned stations.
“The private units don’t operate under the same federal guidelines that the United States postal units have,” Rowe said. “It’s not a labor issue, but mail is not officially mail until the federal government receives it. That means control of the services offered doesn’t exist, and the services can be, and often are, inferior.”
He said employees in the private units are paid less than regular postal workers, adding, “It’s not good for the economy to give substandard pay.”