It was quiet in downtown Winthrop on Thursday afternoon when Gary Urso stopped by the van that’s now offering retail services for the U.S. Postal Service.
The van has been there for a couple weeks, a short-term replacement for the post office that was destroyed by fire two months ago.
“It’s been a hassle from the start,” said Urso, whose lawn care business is heavily dependent on the Postal Service. “It’s been a frigging nightmare. I get paid by mail.”
When the fire tore through the post office on the morning of Feb. 21, it burned up about $500 in checks that had arrived in the mail from Urso’s clients, he said.
For residents who had post office boxes in downtown Winthrop, the Postal Service automatically re-directed mail to the Manchester post office — about 5 miles away — after the fire. Urso ended up getting a post office box in Monmouth, he said, because it’s closer to his home and there were long wait times in Manchester.
But some relief will soon be coming for Winthrop residents who used to get their mail downtown. The Postal Service has suggested it could build a replacement post office in the next year, but in the meantime, it plans to bring post office boxes back to Winthrop.
They will be contained in a trailer that has been parked next to the old post office, and on Thursday, Urso was stopping by to ask a postal worker when that trailer would open.
That postal worker declined to speak with the Kennebec Journal, referring questions to the agency’s spokespeople, but he suggested it could be a couple weeks before the trailer opens.
In the longer term, residents hope the Postal Service will tear down the remains of the existing post office and build the new one. A spokesman for the Postal Service said this week that a timeline has not been established for that process, but Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he’s heard it could take 12 to 14 months.
“They should have leveled it already,” said Bruce Yannelli, who was playing pool next door at Sully’s Restaurant and Tavern on Thursday afternoon. “It’s a burned-out shell. It’s easy.”
The post office had operated at 112 Main St. for seven years, after replacing an older facility that was hard for handicapped patrons to enter. Federal investigators have determined that the large fire was accidental and likely the result of a mechanical or electrical malfunction, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in February. Investigators have not determined the exact cause of the blaze.
On Thursday, Mary Dyer stopped by the temporary van that’s parked near the post office to send some certified mail. Dyer did not get her mail at the post office, but she said she likes to walk downtown and bump into people she knows there.
“I hope (they rebuild it),” she said. “I think it’s an essential part of the town.”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642