There are some rare signs up at the A. C. Ottley Post Office in Sugar Estate: A number of post office boxes are sporting stickers saying they are available for rent.
No, this does not mean that it’s suddenly easy to get a post office box in the territory or that long waiting lists are a thing of the past.
But it is good news.
Several of the territory’s post offices have reached the threshold for being designated “premier” offices, Postmaster Silva T. Gibbs said Monday. To confirm that status they must meet a number of conditions, and one of those is advertising available P.O. boxes.
The premier program is a relatively new national effort aimed at improving postal service. To enter the program, a post office must have annual sales of at least $1 million. In the last fiscal year, four offices on St. Thomas – at Sugar Estate, Veterans Drive, Havensight and Emancipation Garden – and on St. Croix, Sunny Isle, all attained the million dollar mark.
“Most of the money was made over the counter” in the sale of postage and such products as specialty boxes, Gibbs said. Rental on post office boxes also contributed.
Having met the economic prerequisite, “we’re in the qualifying stage right now,” she said. “You’re going to see a lot of different changes in the different post offices” – all of them aimed at improving service.
Some things customers may not notice, she added, because they are internal. For instance, each station at the counter will be arranged the same way, so that postal clerks can change positions easily and not lose time familiarizing themselves with a new setup. Hopefully the customers will notice the line moves a little faster – they just won’t know why.
Gibbs said the box-for-rent stickers are pretty much confined to the largest post office at Sugar Estate, and even there they are basically only for the larger, more expensive boxes. Most residential customers pay $64 a year for a small, Size 1 box. Those available are the larger Size 3 boxes that generally go to businesses and that cost $124 a year.
The boxes at the original St. Thomas post office downtown by Emancipation Garden “have been sold for 100 years to the same people,” and are passed from generation to generation. “Downtown you have a waiting list forever,” Gibbs said.
Likewise, she said, boxes aren’t likely to become available at the small Havensight office, where there are only 104 of them. By contrast, Sugar Estate has 4,900.