Despite the new, free home-delivery rule, small town residents prefer their time-honored trips to the post office.
Trips to the post office to retrieve mail from personal lock boxes are part of the social fabric in this and other small, rural towns, less a chore than a chance to encounter friends and neighbors likewise occupied.
That's the reason new federal postal regulations expanding home-delivery options for rural America have failed to dent the popularity of the time-honored post office box in little towns surrounding Lawrence.
``A couple months ago we sent out a questionnaire asking customers whether they wanted to continue to have a P.O. box or wanted delivery close to their house,'' said Sarah Wilson, the Baldwin postmaster. ``Only about 30 people asked for (curbside) delivery. But we have 740 P.O. boxes rented here in town.''
The Baldwin post office serves about 2,300 rural and town customers.
``In small towns, it seems to be a social thing to come to the post office and get your mail in the morning and talk,'' Wilson said. ``And, of course, your mail is safer in a locked P.O. box.''
On April 6, U.S. Postal Service made the first major change to its rural free delivery service since 1896. Modification of the so-called ``quarter-mile rule'' was centerpiece of the new regulations.
Prior to the change, those living within a quarter-mile radius of a rural post office were ineligible for free general mail delivery and hence required to fetch their mail from a rented box at the post office.
With the rule change, those living within the quarter-mile radius became eligible for free carrier delivery or a free post office box. In Baldwin, the quarter-mile boundaries are Dearborn Street on the north, Fourth Street on the east, King Street on the south, and 10th Street on the west.
Postmasters in Baldwin, Tonganoxie and Lecompton, where a quarter-mile radius captures all or most of the town population, each report most customers have opted for post office box service since the new rule kicked in six months ago.
``Most people are staying with their post office boxes,'' said JoAnn Rundus, who runs the Tonganoxie post office. ``Tonganoxie is a wonderful community. Everyone knows each other and enjoys visiting with one another. The post office is a good place to do it.''
``It really hasn't changed the delivery in our office,'' said Lecompton Postmaster Vicki Roberts. ``I can't say that I've noticed that it has changed at all.''
U.S. Postal Service officials say the new rule affected about 720,000 rural and small-town residents nationwide. The change only affected rural delivery post offices, not those with city carriers or post office boxes only.
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.