Mary Jo King slid her package onto the scale on the downtown post office counter, looking to check the weight.
A Christmas gift, she told the clerk. California. Her son and daughter-in-law were in Orange County, and she was sending out her first batch of presents for them.
"This isn't it," she said on her way out. "I have a few more packages to mail out."
Postal employees say the holiday shipping season has begun as it often does: with a trickle of business, rather than the mad rush of mid-December.
"No, we haven't come close to hitting our high gear yet," Postmaster Judy Raney said.
Raney didn't have any exact numbers, but said that December was far and away the busiest month of the year for shipping. So when lines at the post office backed up Tuesday morning, post office employees thought the rush might have started sooner than usual.
Parcel post (7-10 days for delivery): Dec. 12 Priority mail (typically 2-3 days for delivery): Dec. 20 Next-day Shipping: Dec. 22 Any packages shipped later than Dec. 22 could show up late, or be subject to Saturday shipping fees.
Tuesday was a false alarm, apparently, as the line that snaked out the post office door owed more to people playing catch-up from the Thanksgiving holiday than mailing newly purchased gifts.
But if Tuesday would have been the start of the mailing flood, the office was ready, Raney said, with special holiday packaging and Christmas stamps.
Across town at The Mail Box, Tuesday was quiet.
"It'll pick up, day by day," said manager Joel Wagler.
The holiday mailing season, quite unlike the shopping season, starts slowly and then picks up as Christmas approaches. Wagler said many people didn't even consider mailing their packages this soon.
"Most people figure they have two weeks left," Wagler said.
For procrastinators, Wagler said, there is often only one option: next-day shipping, an expensive alternative to showing up early to beat the holiday rush.
Raney said that the deadline for priority mail, which usually takes two or three days, will be Dec. 20, the Tuesday before Christmas.
After that, it's next-day shipping only, and even that will be pushing it.
"Then, packages will probably show up Christmas Day," Raney said.