With two days’ notice, the mail stopped coming to Pine Level.
The Johnston County town east of Interstate 95 is too small for a mail carrier to go door to door, so everyone has a post office box, 625 to be exact. But a notice slipped into those boxes on May 13 said the mail would stop May 15 because the post office building on West Pine Street was unsafe for customers and employees. Since then, residents have made the three-mile trek to Selma to get their mail, but only during retail hours.
For years the post office has been housed in an old railroad building in Pine Level’s two-block downtown, leased to the U.S. Postal Service by the landlord. In February, the building’s owner, who had been living in an upstairs apartment, passed away, and the building, which had been in disrepair, recently became unsteady.
“The building is unstable,” said Denise Edmonds, marketing manager for the USPS Greensboro Region, which includes the northern half of the state. “Because of safety reasons, we had to vacate the building quite rapidly. There were beams that were starting to fall through the ceiling. We had to get out fast and apologize we didn’t have enough time to give several days’ notice.”
Edmonds said a visit from the postal service’s facility assessment team had deemed the building unsafe after a visit this month, calling it an emergency after finding leaks in the roof, the broken beams and cracks in the foundation.
Still, the abruptness of the closure surprised Pine Level residents and left many struggling to get their mail. Edmonds acknowledged that with much of the town’s population working outside of Pine Level, the Postal Service had received complaints about making it to Selma by 5 p.m. when the post office there closed. After a week of complaints, the Selma post office extended its weekday hours until 7 p.m., though Saturday hours of 8:30 to 11 a.m. are unchanged.
Alexandre Lock has lived in Pine Level for 10 years and says most days include a stop by the post office, which she said didn’t hide the building’s scars.
“The building is in horrible shape,” she said. “The second story, most if not all of the windows are broken. It leaks very badly; there are chunks of the roof falling though. It’s a building I went to every day to pick up my mail, but it’s not the pride of Pine Level.”
Lock said she worries about elderly residents in town, including her neighbor, who she says uses a motorized scooter to travel the block to the post office but doesn’t drive and likely can’t make it to Selma.
“We can only pick up our mail when there are clerks there (in Selma),” Lock said. “Here it was always open, any time on any day; all you had to do was use your key and get your mail. Now we have to go to Selma. It’s pretty tough, especially for older and retired people.”
Lock complimented the clerk and postmaster running the Pine Level post office but said she’s looking for some kind of timeline for when she can once again get her mail in her town. Edmonds said she didn’t have an answer for that right now, but said the postal service considers the situation an emergency and is working to find an in-town fix. Whether that will mean building a new structure or moving into an existing one, it’s too early to tell, she said.
“We have every intention of getting some kind of operation back in Pine Level as soon as possible,” Edmonds said.